White Teeth

( 102 )

Overview

Zadie Smith’s dazzling debut caught critics grasping for comparisons and deciding on everyone from Charles Dickens to Salman Rushdie to John Irving and Martin Amis. But the truth is that Zadie Smith’s voice is remarkably, fluently, and altogether wonderfully her own.

At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable ...

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White Teeth

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Overview

Zadie Smith’s dazzling debut caught critics grasping for comparisons and deciding on everyone from Charles Dickens to Salman Rushdie to John Irving and Martin Amis. But the truth is that Zadie Smith’s voice is remarkably, fluently, and altogether wonderfully her own.

At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith. Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.

Finalist in Frankfurt eBook Award 2000, for Best Fiction work originally published in print and converted to eBook form

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Smith's debut has been described as "precocious," and our volunteer readers eagerly anticipated the arrival of our reader's copies of this work. In fact, we had planned to highlight this amazing stew of a novel last season. But once we determined its May publication date, we decided that rather than promote a title a month in advance of its publication and frustrate readers who'd have to wait, we'd do so in July with our summer selections. One thing is clear: our claim of Zadie Smith as a "great new writer" is no longer a solo voice-she's since been mentioned in the same breath as Dickens and Rushdie, Proust, Hemingway and Forster (as in E.M.)!

In this remarkable novel set in postwar London, 24-year-old Smith has cleverly created an unlikely friendship between Archie Jones, a simple working-class Brit, and Samad Iqbal, a Muslim Bengali waiter in an Indian restaurant, who meet in the English army in WWII. After the war, the two commiserate over their lives and those of their children; their dreams, disappointments and expectations unfolding with riotous humor as the characters in both generations struggle to carve out their own cultural identities. As Samad himself says, "…you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly, this thing, this belonging, it seems like some long, dirty lie."

White Teeth is filled to bursting with all the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of London. Melding races and cultures with a near-perfect ear for dialogue and dialect, and weaving successfully (albeit uproariously) between themes of history, religion, faith and science, Zadie Smith's is a stunning, self-assured debut, and an unforgettable new voice in fiction.

From the Publisher
“A preternaturally gifted new writer [with] a voice that’s street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time.”–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Brilliant…. Smith is a master at detail…a postmodern Charles Dickens…[Smith's] rich storytelling and wicked wit are suited to the sights and smells of the world that England has inherited.”–The Washington Post

“[A] vibrant, rollicking first novel about race and idenity…[Smith's] prickly wit is affectionate and poignant.”–People

“[A] dazzling intergenerational first novel…wonderfully inventive…playful yet unaffected, mongrel yet cohesive, profound yet funny, vernacular yet lyrical. ”–Los Angeles Times

“[A] marvel of a debut novel. . .Reminscent of both Salman Rushdie and John Irving, White Teeth is a comic, canny, sprawling tale, adeptly held together by Smith's literary sleight of hand.”–Entertainment Weekly

“A magnificent and audacious novel, jampacked with memorable characters and challenging ideas.”–The Atlanta Journal & Constitution

"Ambitious, earnest and irreverent. . . Smith has a real talent for comedy and a fond eye for human foibles."–The Wall Street Journal

“Wonderful…. Zadie Smith…possesses a more than ordinary share of talent.”–USA Today

"Smith has an astonishing intellect. She writes sharp dialogue for every age and race— and she's funny as hell.”–Newsweek

“[
White Teeth] is, like the London it portrays, a restless hybrid of voices, tones, and textures…with a raucous energy and confidence.”–The New York Times Book Review

"Fresh…spirited…this extravagant novel bursts with optimism about people, about language, and perhaps, above all, about novels and the joy, indeed the impertinence, of writing one.”–The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Blissfully confident, wide-ranging and funny from the get-go, White Teeth…promises–and delivers–a wildly inventive journey into a fresh imagination.”–Rocky Mountain News

“Brilliant…. Smith is a master at detail…. Like a postmodern Dickens, she has a flair for features, dress, dialogue, accents and human frailty.”–The Miami Herald

“It’s a treat to watch an immensely gifted young writer performing, for the very first time, such an admirably audacious and ambitious juggling act.”–Elle

“Absolutely delicious…. Smith’s voice is a perfect balance of tragedy and comedy.”–The Tampa Tribune and Times

“Gently observant and generous in its judgments…. Filled with vibrant life.”–The San Diego Union—Tribune

“Brilliant…. Bubbles and pops in its imaginative intensity.”–The Baltimore Sun

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Smith's debut novel is touted as a remarkable look at the immigrant's experience in a post colonial world.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The scrambled, heterogeneous sprawl of mixed-race and immigrant family life in gritty London nearly overflows the bounds of this stunning, polymathic debut novel by 23-year-old British writer Smith. Traversing a broad swath of cultural territory with a perfect ear for the nuances of identity and social class, Smith harnesses provocative themes of science, technology, history and religion to her narrative. Hapless Archibald Jones fights alongside Bengali Muslim Samad Iqbal in the English army during WWII, and the two develop an unlikely bond that intensifies when Samad relocates to Archie's native London. Smith traces the trajectory of their friendship through marriage, parenthood and the shared disappointments of poverty and deflated dreams, widening the scope of her novel to include a cast of vibrant characters: Archie's beautiful Jamaican bride, Clara; Archie and Clara's introspective daughter, Irie; Samad's embittered wife, Alsana; and Alsana and Samad's twin sons, Millat and Magid. Torn between the pressures of his new country and the old religious traditions of his homeland, Samad sends Magid back to Bangladesh while keeping Millat in England. But Millat falls into delinquency and then religious extremism, as earnest Magid becomes an Anglophile with an interest in genetic engineering, a science that Samad and Millat repudiate. Smith contrasts Samad's faith in providence with Magid's desire to seize control of the future, involving all of her characters in a debate concerning past and present, determinism and accident. The tooth--half root, half protrusion--makes a perfect trope for the two families at the center of the narrative. A remarkable examination of the immigrant's experience in a postcolonial world, Smith's novel recalls the hyper-contemporary yet history-infused work of Rushdie, sharp-edged, fluorescent and many-faceted. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Smith has written an epic tale of two interconnected families. It begins with the suicide attempt of hapless, coin-flipping Archibald Jones on New Year's Day, 1975, and ends, after a 100-year ramble back and forth through time, on New Year's Eve, 1992, with his accidental (or preordained?) release of a poor mutant mouse programmed to do away with the randomness of creation. Smith evokes images of teeth throughout the novel. Do they symbolize some characteristic shared by all of humanity in this novel about ethnicity, class, belonging, homeland, family, adolescence, identity, blindness, and ignorance? Or are they meant to distract the reader from the all-encompassing theme of fate? Smith's characters are tossed about by decisions made deliberately, rashly, or by the flip of a coin. As Smith pieces together this story with bits of fabric from different times and places, the reader must contemplate whether our choices determine our future or whether fate leads us to an inevitable destiny. This fine first novel from Smith is most highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/00.]--Rebecca A. Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Michiko Kakutani
It's a novel that announces the debut of a preternaturally gifted new writer -- a writer who at the age of 24 demonstrates both an instinctive storytelling talent and a fully fashioned voice that's street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time. This, White Teeth announces, is someone who can do comedy, drama and satire, and do them all with exceptional confidence and brio...In what will surely rank as one of her generation's most precocious debuts, Ms. Smith announces herself as a writer of remarkable powers, a writer whose talents prove commensurate with her ambitions.
The New York Times
Tate
...as gut-busting and auspicious a debut novel as Pynchon's V...
The Village Voice
Daneet Steffens
Reminiscent of both Salman Rushdie and John Irving, Teeth is a comic, canny, sprawling tale, adeptly held together by Smith's literary sleight of hand.
Entertainment Weekly
The New Yorker
In this multiracial novel of brilliantly hued setups and vivid dialogue what jumps out at you is not the politics of color but the colors themselves.
The Independent
A rich, ambitious, and often hilarious delight.
Sunday Telegraph
This is a strikingly clever and funny book with a passion for ideas, for language, and for the rich tragicomedy of life. . . . [Smith's] characters always ring true; it is her ebullient, simple prose and her generous understanding of human nature that make Zadie Smith's novel outstanding. It is not only great fun to read, but full of hope.
The Times Literary Supplement
A writer of mighty potential.
The Guardian
Poised and relentlessly funny. . . . A major new talent.
Jana Heffernan
At 24, Smith exhibits the best kind of literary audacity. White Teeth is a wild and generous ride, unstinting on comedy and electric with ideas.
Talk Magazine
David Wiegand
Smith has much to say about threats to ethnic identity in the modern world, but her book's real strength lies in the way she says it. Her characters drawn with a commanding sense of detail, her writing style wonderfully sly and often downright funny, and her plot both rollicking and heartfelt, Smith makes a smashing debut on the literary scene. White Teeth just may be the first great novel of the new century.
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375703867
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/12/2001
  • Series: International Series
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 67,344
  • Lexile: 960L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.98 (w) x 10.90 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Zadie  Smith

Zadie Smith was born in northwest London in 1975. The Autograph Man is her second novel. Her first, White Teeth, was the winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, and the Commonweatlh Writers First Book Prize. She is currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Biography

The debut wunderkind of the new millennium was Zadie Smith, who finished her manuscript for White Teeth as a college student in Cambridge, England, only to find herself sitting on a six-figure advance, an international bestseller, and an onslaught of literary praise comparing her to the likes of Charles Dickens and Salman Rushdie.

Born in 1975 to an English father and a Jamaican mother, Smith grew up in London's poly-ethnic Willesden Green neighborhood, a backdrop she has mined with great success in stories that parse the immigrant experience and investigate overarching themes of race, class, and intergenerational ties. She attended King's College in Cambridge, submitted stories to a college anthology, and got noticed by a literary agent who wangled the deal that led to her first novel. Spanning 150 years, mixing Jamaican, English, and Bangladeshi into its characters' family trees, and focused on three clans in London, White Teeth garnered lavish praise on its publication in 2000. Notoriously critical New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani called it "...a big, splashy, populous production ... that announces the debut of a preternaturally gifted new writer." The San Francisco Chronicle pronounced it the first great novel of the new century, and Time likened Smith to Margaret Atwood and Pulitzer winner Michael Chabon.

In the midst of all the hosannas, though, one negative review stands out. A notice in the literary magazine Butterfly proclaimed: "White Teeth is the literary equivalent of a hyperactive, ginger-haired, tap-dancing 10-year-old." The author of this snipe? Zadie Smith, of course! "I was very worried that if this book did well or was forced to do well by a lot of hype behind it, that I wouldn't write anything again," she explained to London's Independent in 2000

Apparently Smith seriously underestimated her accomplishment. White Teeth scooped the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was shortlisted for a several other prestigious literary awards. Moreover, she stared down the dreaded specter of sophomore slump with her second novel, 2002's The Autograph Man, a meditation on her own celebrity that zoomed up the bestseller list, won the Jewish Quarterly Literary Prize for Fiction, and positioned Smith for inclusion in Granta magazine's 2003 list of the 20 best young British writers -- a roster compiled once every 10 years.

Smith continues to forge fiction that gets noticed. In addition, she has edited and written introductions to anthologies that showcase the preeminent writers of her generation.

Good To Know

Smith changed her name from "Sadie" to "Zadie," "because it seemed right, exotic, different," she told the Guardian.

Smith's third novel, On Beauty takes its title from Elaine Scarry's essay "On Beauty and Being Just."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Sadie Smith (birth name)
    2. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 27, 1975
    2. Place of Birth:
      Willesden, London, England
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, King's College at Cambridge University, 1998

Read an Excerpt

The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones

Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signaling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year's resolution.

But even as his breathing became spasmodic and his lights dimmed, Archie was aware that Cricklewood Broadway would seem a strange choice. Strange to the first person to notice his slumped figure through the windscreen, strange to the policemen who would file the report, to the local journalist called upon to write fifty words, to the next of kin who would read them. Squeezed between an almighty concrete cinema complex at one end and a giant intersection at the other, Cricklewood was no kind of place. It was not a place a man came to die. It was a place a man came in order to go other places via the A41. But Archie Jones didn't want to die in some pleasant, distant woodland, or on a cliff edge fringed with delicate heather. The way Archie saw it, country people should die in the country and city people should die in the city. Only proper. In death as he was in life and all that. It made sense that Archibald should die on this nasty urban street where he had ended up, living alone at the age of forty-seven, in a one-bedroom flat above a deserted chip shop. He wasn't the type to make elaborate plans - suicide notes and funeral instructions - he wasn't the type for anything fancy. All he asked for was a bit of silence, a bit of shush so he could concentrate. He wanted it to be perfectly quiet and still, like the inside of an empty confessional box or the moment in the brain between thought and speech. He wanted to do it before the shops opened.

Overhead, a gang of the local flying vermin took off from some unseen perch, swooped, and seemed to be zeroing in on Archie's car roof - only to perform, at the last moment, an impressive U-turn, moving as one with the elegance of a curve ball and landing on the Hussein-Ishmael, a celebrated halal butchers. Archie was too far gone to make a big noise about it, but he watched them with a warm internal smile as they deposited their load, streaking white walls purple. He watched them stretch their peering bird heads over the Hussein-Ishmael gutter; he watched them watch the slow and steady draining of blood from the dead things - chickens, cows, sheep - hanging on their hooks like coats around the shop. The Unlucky. These pigeons had an instinct for the Unlucky, and so they passed Archie by. For, though he did not know it, and despite the Hoover tube that lay on the passenger seat pumping from the exhaust pipe into his lungs, luck was with him that morning. The thinnest covering of luck was on him like fresh dew. Whilst he slipped in and out of consciousness, the position of the planets, the music of the spheres, the flap of a tiger-moth's diaphanous wings in Central Africa, and a whole bunch of other stuff that Makes Shit Happen had decided it was second-chance time for Archie. Somewhere, somehow, by somebody, it had been decided that he would live.
~
The Hussein-Ishmael was owned by Mo Hussein-Ishmael, a great bull of a man with hair that rose and fell in a quaff, then a ducktail. Mo believed that with pigeons you have to get to the root of the problem: not the excretions but the pigeon itself. The shit is not the shit (this was Mo's mantra); the pigeon is the shit. So the morning of Archie's almost-death began as every morning in the Hussein-Ishmael, with Mo resting his huge belly on the windowsill, leaning out and swinging a meat cleaver in an attempt to halt the flow of dribbling purple.

'Get out of it! Get away, you shit-making bastards! Yes! SIX!'

It was cricket, basically - the Englishman's game adapted by the immigrant, and six was the most pigeons you could get at one swipe.

'Varin!' said Mo, calling down to the street, holding the bloodied cleaver up in triumph. 'You're in to bat, my boy. Ready?'

Below him on the pavement stood Varin - a massively overweight Hindu boy on misjudged work experience from the school round the corner, looking up like a big dejected blob underneath Mo's question mark. It was Varin's job to struggle up a ladder and gather spliced bits of pigeon into a small Kwik Save carrier bag, tie the bag up, and dispose of it in the bins at the other end of the street.

'Come on, Mr. Fatty-man,' yelled one of Mo's kitchen staff, poking Varin up the arse with a broom as punctuation for each word. 'Get-your-fat-Ganesh-Hindu-backside-up-there-Elephant-Boy-and-bring-some-of-that-mashed-pigeon-stuff-with-you.'

Mo wiped the sweat off his forehead, snorted, and looked out over Cricklewood, surveying the discarded armchairs and strips of carpet, outdoor lounges for local drunks; the slot-machine emporiums, the greasy spoons and the minicabs - all covered in shit. One day, so Mo believed, Cricklewood and its residents would have cause to thank him for his daily massacre; one day no man, woman or child in the broadway would ever again have to mix one part detergent to four parts vinegar to clean up the crap that falls on the world. The shit is not the shit, he repeated solemnly, the pigeon is the shit. Mo was the only man in the community who truly understood. He was feeling really very Zen about this - very goodwill-to-all-men - until he spotted Archie's car.

'Arshad!'

A shifty-looking skinny guy with a handlebar moustache, dressed in four different shades of brown, came out of the shop, with blood on his palms.

'Arshad!' Mo barely restrained himself, stabbed his finger in the direction of the car. 'My boy, I'm going to ask you just once.'

'Yes, Abba?' said Arshad, shifting from foot to foot.

'What the hell is this? What is this doing here? I got delivery at 6.30. I got fifteen dead bovines turning up here at 6.30. I got to get it in the back. That's my job. You see? There's meat coming. So, I am perplexed—' Mo affected a look of innocent confusion. 'Because I thought this was clearly marked "Delivery Area".' He pointed to an aging wooden crate which bore the legend NO PARKINGS OF ANY VEHICLE ON ANY DAYS. Well?'

'I don't know, Abba.'

'You're my son, Arshad. I don't employ you not to know. I employ him not to know' - he reached out of the window and slapped Varin, who was negotiating the perilous gutter like a tightrope-walker, giving him a thorough cosh to the back of his head and almost knocking the boy off his perch -'I employ you to know things. To compute information. To bring into the light the great darkness of the creator's unexplainable universe.'

'Abba?'

'Find out what it's doing there and get rid of it.'

Mo disappeared from the window. A minute later Arshad returned with the explanation. 'Abba.'

Mo's head sprang back through the window like a malicious cuckoo from a Swiss clock.

'He's gassing himself, Abba.'

'What?'

Arshad shrugged. 'I shouted through the car window and told the guy to move on and he says, "I am gassing myself, leave me alone." Like that.'

'No one gasses himself on my property,' Mo snapped as he marched downstairs. 'We are not licensed.'

Once in the street, Mo advanced upon Archie's car, pulled out the towels that were sealing the gap in the driver's window, and pushed it down five inches with brute, bullish force.

'Do you hear that, mister? We're not licensed for suicides around here. This place halal. Kosher, understand? If you're going to die round here, my friend, I'm afraid you've got to be thoroughly bled first.'

Archie dragged his head off the steering wheel. And in the moment between focusing on the sweaty bulk of a brown-skinned Elvis and realizing that life was still his, he had a kind of epiphany. It occurred to him that, for the first time since his birth, Life had said Yes to Archie Jones. Not simply an 'OK' or 'You-might-as-well-carry-on-since-you've-started', but a resounding affirmative. Life wanted Archie. She had jealously grabbed him from the jaws of death, back to her bosom. Although he was not one of her better specimens, Life wanted Archie and Archie, much to his own surprise, wanted Life.

Frantically, he wound down both his windows and gasped for oxygen from the very depths of his lungs. In between gulps he thanked Mo profusely, tears streaming down his cheeks, his hands clinging on to Mo's apron.

'All right, all right,' said the butcher, freeing himself from Archie's fingers and brushing himself clean, 'move along now. I've got meat coming. I'm in the business of bleeding. Not counseling. You want Lonely Street. This Cricklewood Lane.'

Archie, still choking on thank yous, reversed, pulled out from the curb, and turned right.
~
Archie Jones attempted suicide because his wife Ophelia, a violet-eyed Italian with a faint moustache, had recently divorced him. But he had not spent New Year's morning gagging on the tube of a vacuum cleaner because he loved her. It was rather because he had lived with her for so long and had not loved her. Archie's marriage felt like buying a pair of shoes, taking them home and finding they don't fit. For the sake of appearances, he put up with them. And then, all of a sudden and after thirty years, the shoes picked themselves up and walked out of the house. She left. Thirty years.

As far as he remembered, just like everybody else they began well. The first spring of 1946, he had stumbled out of the darkness of war and into a Florentine coffee house, where he was served by a waitress truly like the sun: Ophelia Diagilo, dressed all in yellow, spreading warmth and the promise of sex as she passed him a frothy cappuccino. They walked into it blinkered as horses. She was not to know that women never stayed as daylight in Archie's life; that somewhere in him he didn't like them, he didn't trust them, and he was able to love them only if they wore haloes. No one told Archie that lurking in the Diagilo family tree were two hysteric aunts, an uncle who talked to aubergines and a cousin who wore his clothes back to front. So they got married and returned to England, where she realized very quickly her mistake, he drove her very quickly mad, and the halo was packed off to the attic to collect dust with the rest of the bric-a-brac and broken kitchen appliances that Archie promised one day to repair. Amongst that bric-a-brac was a Hoover.

On Boxing Day morning, six days before he parked outside Mo's halal butchers, Archie had returned to their semi-detached in Hendon in search of that Hoover. It was his fourth trip to the attic in so many days, ferrying out the odds and ends of a marriage to his new flat, and the Hoover was amongst the very last items he reclaimed - one of the most broken things, most ugly things, the things you demand out of sheer bloody-mindedness because you have lost the house. This is what divorce is: taking things you no longer want from people you no longer love.

'So you again,' said the Spanish home-help at the door, Santa-Maria or Maria-Santa or something. 'Meester Jones, what now? Kitchen sink, si?'

'Hoover,' said Archie, grimly. 'Vacuum.'

She cut her eyes at him and spat on the doormat inches from his shoes. 'Welcome, senor.'

The place had become a haven for people who hated him. Apart from the home-help, he had to contend with Ophelia's extended Italian family, her mental-health nurse, the woman from the council, and of course Ophelia herself, who was to be found in the kernel of this nuthouse, curled up in a foetal ball on the sofa, making lowing sounds into a bottle of Bailey's. It took him an hour and a quarter just to get through enemy lines - and for what? A perverse Hoover, discarded months earlier because it was determined to perform the opposite of every vacuum's objective: spewing out dust instead of sucking it in.

'Meester Jones, why do you come here when it make you so unhappy? Be reasonable. What can you want with it?' The home-help was following him up the attic stairs, armed with some kind of cleaning fluid: 'It's broken. You don't need this. See? See?' She plugged it into a socket and demonstrated the dead switch. Archie took the plug out and silently wound the cord round the Hoover. If it was broken, it was coming with him. All broken things were coming with him. He was going to fix every damn broken thing in this house, if only to show that he was good for something.

'You good for nothing!' Santa whoever chased him back down the stairs. 'Your wife is ill in her head, and this is all you can do!'

Archie hugged the Hoover to his chest and took it into the crowded living room, where, under several pairs of reproachful eyes, he got out his toolbox and started work on it.

'Look at him,' said one of the Italian grandmothers, the more glamorous one with the big scarves and fewer moles, 'he take everything, capisce? He take-a her mind, he take-a the blender, he take-a the old stereo - he take-a everything except the floorboards. It make-a you sick. . .'

The woman from the council, who even on dry days resembled a long-haired cat soaked to the skin, shook her skinny head in agreement. 'It's disgusting, you don't have to tell me, it's disgusting ... and naturally, we're the ones left to sort out the mess; it's muggins here who has to -'

Which was overlapped by the nurse: 'She can't stay here alone, can she ... now he's buggered off, poor woman ... she needs a proper home, she needs . . .'

I'm here, Archie felt like saying, I'm right here you know, I'm bloody right here. And it was my blender.

But he wasn't one for confrontation, Archie. He listened to them all for another fifteen minutes, mute as he tested the Hoover's suction against pieces of newspaper, until he was overcome by the sensation that Life was an enormous rucksack so impossibly heavy that, even though it meant losing everything, it was infinitely easier to leave all baggage here on the roadside and walk on into the blackness. You don't need the blender, Archie-boy, you don't need the Hoover. This stuff's all dead weight. Just lay down the rucksack, Arch, and join the happy campers in the sky. Was that wrong? To Archie - ex-wife and ex-wife's relatives in one ear, spluttering vacuum in the other - it just seemed that The End was unavoidably nigh. Nothing personal to God or whatever. It just felt like the end of the world. And he was going to need more than poor whisky, novelty crackers and a paltry box of Quality Street - all the strawberry ones already scoffed - to justify entering another annum.

Patiently he fixed the Hoover, and vacuumed the living room with a strange methodical finality, shoving the nozzle into the most difficult comers. Solemnly he flipped a coin (heads, life, tails, death) and felt nothing in particular when he found himself staring at the dancing lion. Quietly he detached the Hoover tube, put it in a suitcase, and left the house for the last time.

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First Chapter

The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones

Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage licence (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signalling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year's resolution.

But even as his breathing became spasmodic and his lights dimmed, Archie was aware that Cricklewood Broadway would seem a strange choice. Strange to the first person to notice his slumped figure through the windscreen, strange to the policemen who would file the report, to the local journalist called upon to write fifty words, to the next of kin who would read them. Squeezed between an almighty concrete cinema complex at one end and a giant intersection at the other, Cricklewood was no kind of place. It was not a place a man came to die. It was a place a man came in order to go other places via the A41. But Archie Jones didn't want to die in some pleasant, distant woodland, or on a cliff edge fringed with delicate heather. The way Archie saw it, country people should die in the country and city people should die in the city. Only proper. In death as he was in life and all that. It made sense that Archibald should die on this nasty urban street where he had ended up, living alone at the age of forty-seven, in a one-bedroom flat above a deserted chip shop. He wasn't the type to make elaborate plans - suicide notes and funeral instructions - he wasn't the type for anything fancy. All he asked for was a bit of silence, a bit of shush so he could concentrate. He wanted it to be perfectly quiet and still, like the inside of an empty confessional box or the moment in the brain between thought and speech. He wanted to do it before the shops opened.

Overhead, a gang of the local flying vermin took off from some unseen perch, swooped, and seemed to be zeroing in on Archie's car roof - only to perform, at the last moment, an impressive U-turn, moving as one with the elegance of a curve ball and landing on the Hussein-Ishmael, a celebrated halal butchers. Archie was too far gone to make a big noise about it, but he watched them with a warm internal smile as they deposited their load, streaking white walls purple. He watched them stretch their peering bird heads over the Hussein-Ishmael gutter; he watched them watch the slow and steady draining of blood from the dead things - chickens, cows, sheep - hanging on their hooks like coats around the shop. The Unlucky. These pigeons had an instinct for the Unlucky, and so they passed Archie by. For, though he did not know it, and despite the Hoover tube that lay on the passenger seat pumping from the exhaust pipe into his lungs, luck was with him that morning. The thinnest covering of luck was on him like fresh dew. Whilst he slipped in and out of consciousness, the position of the planets, the music of the spheres, the flap of a tiger-moth's diaphanous wings in Central Africa, and a whole bunch of other stuff that Makes Shit Happen had decided it was second-chance time for Archie. Somewhere, somehow, by somebody, it had been decided that he would live.

~

The Hussein-Ishmael was owned by Mo Hussein-Ishmael, a great bull of a man with hair that rose and fell in a quiff, then a ducktail. Mo believed that with pigeons you have to get to the root of the problem: not the excretions but the pigeon itself. The shit is not the shit (this was Mo's mantra), the pigeon is the shit. So the morning of Archie's almost-death began as every morning in the Hussein-Ishmael, with Mo resting his huge belly on the windowsill, leaning out and swinging a meat cleaver in an attempt to halt the flow of dribbling purple.

'Get out of it! Get away, you shit-making bastards! Yes! SIX!'

It was cricket, basically - the Englishman's game adapted by the immigrant, and six was the most pigeons you could get at one swipe.

'Varin!' said Mo, calling down to the street, holding the bloodied cleaver up in triumph. 'You're in to bat, my boy. Ready?'

Below him on the pavement stood Varin - a massively overweight Hindu boy on misjudged work experience from the school round the corner, looking up like a big dejected blob underneath Mo's question mark. It was Varin's job to struggle up a ladder and gather spliced bits of pigeon into a small Kwik Save carrier bag, tie the bag up, and dispose of it in the bins at the other end of the street.

'Come on, Mr Fatty-man,' yelled one of Mo's kitchen staff, poking Varin up the arse with a broom as punctuation for each word. 'Get-your-fat-Ganesh-Hindu-backside-up-there-Elephant-Boy-and-bring-some-of-that-mashed-pigeon-stuff-with-you.'

Mo wiped the sweat off his forehead, snorted, and looked out over Cricklewood, surveying the discarded armchairs and strips of carpet, outdoor lounges for local drunks; the slot-machine emporiums, the greasy spoons and the minicabs - all covered in shit. One day, so Mo believed, Cricklewood and its residents would have cause to thank him for his daily massacre; one day no man, woman or child in the broadway would ever again have to mix one part detergent to four parts vinegar to clean up the crap that falls on the world. The shit is not the shit, he repeated solemnly, the pigeon is the shit. Mo was the only man in the community who truly understood. He was feeling really very Zen about this - very goodwill-to-all-men - until he spotted Archie's car.

'Arshad!'

A shifty-looking skinny guy with a handlebar moustache, dressed in four different shades of brown, came out of the shop, with blood on his palms.

'Arshad!' Mo barely restrained himself, stabbed his finger in the direction of the car. 'My boy, I'm going to ask you just once.'

'Yes, Abba?' said Arshad, shifting from foot to foot.

'What the hell is this? What is this doing here? I got delivery at 6.30. I got fifteen dead bovines turning up here at 6.30. I got to get it in the back. That's my job. You see? There's meat coming. So, I am perplexed--' Mo affected a look of innocent confusion. 'Because I thought this was clearly marked "Delivery Area".' He pointed to an ageing wooden crate which bore the legend NO PARKINGS OF ANY VEHICLE ON ANY DAYS. Well?'

'I don't know, Abba.'

'You're my son, Arshad. I don't employ you not to know. I employ him not to know' - he reached out of the window and slapped Varin, who was negotiating the perilous gutter like a tightrope-walker, giving him a thorough cosh to the back of his head and almost knocking the boy off his perch -'I employ you to know things. To compute information. To bring into the light the great darkness of the creator's unexplainable universe.'


'Abba?'

'Find out what it's doing there and get rid of it.'

Mo disappeared from the window. A minute later Arshad returned with the explanation. 'Abba.'

Mo's head sprang back through the window like a malicious cuckoo from a Swiss clock.

'He's gassing himself, Abba.'

'What?'

Arshad shrugged. 'I shouted through the car window and told the guy to move on and he says, "I am gassing myself, leave me alone." Like that.'

'No one gasses himself on my property,' Mo snapped as he marched downstairs. 'We are not licensed.'

Once in the street, Mo advanced upon Archie's car, pulled out the towels that were sealing the gap in the driver's window, and pushed it down five inches with brute, bullish force.

'Do you hear that, mister? We're not licensed for suicides around here. This place halal. Kosher, understand? If you're going to die round here, my friend, I'm afraid you've got to be thoroughly bled first.'

Archie dragged his head off the steering wheel. And in the moment between focusing on the sweaty bulk of a brown-skinned Elvis and realizing that life was still his, he had a kind of epiphany. It occurred to him that, for the first time since his birth, Life had said Yes to Archie Jones. Not simply an 'OK' or 'You-might-as-well-carry-on-since-you've-started', but a resounding affirmative. Life wanted Archie. She had jealously grabbed him from the jaws of death, back to her bosom. Although he was not one of her better specimens, Life wanted Archie and Archie, much to his own surprise, wanted Life.

Frantically, he wound down both his windows and gasped for oxygen from the very depths of his lungs. In between gulps he thanked Mo profusely, tears streaming down his cheeks, his hands clinging on to Mo's apron.

'All right, all right,' said the butcher, freeing himself from Archie's fingers and brushing himself clean, 'move along now. I've got meat coming. I'm in the business of bleeding. Not counselling. You want Lonely Street. This Cricklewood Lane.'

Archie, still choking on thank yous, reversed, pulled out from the curb, and turned right.

~

Archie Jones attempted suicide because his wife Ophelia, a violet-eyed Italian with a faint moustache, had recently divorced him. But he had not spent New Year's morning gagging on the tube of a vacuum cleaner because he loved her. It was rather because he had lived with her for so long and had not loved her. Archie's marriage felt like buying a pair of shoes, taking them home and finding they don't fit. For the sake of appearances, he put up with them. And then, all of a sudden and after thirty years, the shoes picked themselves up and walked out of the house. She left. Thirty years.

As far as he remembered, just like everybody else they began well. The first spring of 1946, he had stumbled out of the darkness of war and into a Florentine coffee house, where he was served by a waitress truly like the sun: Ophelia Diagilo, dressed all in yellow, spreading warmth and the promise of sex as she passed him a frothy cappuccino. They walked into it blinkered as horses. She was not to know that women never stayed as daylight in Archie's life; that somewhere in him he didn't like them, he didn't trust them, and he was able to love them only if they wore haloes. No one told Archie that lurking in the Diagilo family tree were two hysteric aunts, an uncle who talked to aubergines and a cousin who wore his clothes back to front. So they got married and returned to England, where she realized very quickly her mistake, he drove her very quickly mad, and the halo was packed off to the attic to collect dust with the rest of the bric-a-brac and broken kitchen appliances that Archie promised one day to repair. Amongst that bric-a-brac was a Hoover.

On Boxing Day morning, six days before he parked outside Mo's halal butchers, Archie had returned to their semi-detached in Hendon in search of that Hoover. It was his fourth trip to the attic in so many days, ferrying out the odds and ends of a marriage to his new flat, and the Hoover was amongst the very last items he reclaimed - one of the most broken things, most ugly things, the things you demand out of sheer bloody-mindedness because you have lost the house. This is what divorce is: taking things you no longer want from people you no longer love.

'So you again,' said the Spanish home-help at the door, Santa-Maria or Maria-Santa or something. 'Meester Jones, what now? Kitchen sink, si?'

'Hoover,' said Archie, grimly. 'Vacuum.'

She cut her eyes at him and spat on the doormat inches from his shoes. 'Welcome, senor.'

The place had become a haven for people who hated him. Apart from the home-help, he had to contend with Ophelia's extended Italian family, her mental-health nurse, the woman from the council, and of course Ophelia herself, who was to be found in the kernel of this nuthouse, curled up in a foetal ball on the sofa, making lowing sounds into a bottle of Bailey's. It took him an hour and a quarter just to get through enemy lines - and for what? A perverse Hoover, discarded months earlier because it was determined to perform the opposite of every vacuum's objective: spewing out dust instead of sucking it in.

'Meester Jones, why do you come here when it make you so unhappy? Be reasonable. What can you want with it?' The home-help was following him up the attic stairs, armed with some kind of cleaning fluid: 'It's broken. You don't need this. See? See?' She plugged it into a socket and demonstrated the dead switch. Archie took the plug out and silently wound the cord round the Hoover. If it was broken, it was coming with him. All broken things were coming with him. He was going to fix every damn broken thing in this house, if only to show that he was good for something.


'You good for nothing!' Santa whoever chased him back down the stairs. 'Your wife is ill in her head, and this is all you can do!'

Archie hugged the Hoover to his chest and took it into the crowded living room, where, under several pairs of reproachful eyes, he got out his toolbox and started work on it.

'Look at him,' said one of the Italian grandmothers, the more glamorous one with the big scarves and fewer moles, 'he take everything, capisce? He take-a her mind, he take-a the blender, he take-a the old stereo - he take-a everything except the floorboards. It make-a you sick. . .'

The woman from the council, who even on dry days resembled a long-haired cat soaked to the skin, shook her skinny head in agreement. 'It's disgusting, you don't have to tell me, it's disgusting ... and naturally, we're the ones left to sort out the mess; it's muggins here who has to -'

Which was overlapped by the nurse: 'She can't stay here alone, can she ... now he's buggered off, poor woman ... she needs a proper home, she needs . . .'

I'm here, Archie felt like saying, I'm right here you know, I'm bloody right here. And it was my blender.

But he wasn't one for confrontation, Archie. He listened to them all for another fifteen minutes, mute as he tested the Hoover's suction against pieces of newspaper, until he was overcome by the sensation that Life was an enormous rucksack so impossibly heavy that, even though it meant losing everything, it was infinitely easier to leave all baggage here on the roadside and walk on into the blackness. You don't need the blender, Archie-boy, you don't need the Hoover. This stuff's all dead weight. Just lay down the rucksack, Arch, and join the happy campers in the sky. Was that wrong? To Archie - ex-wife and ex-wife's relatives in one ear, spluttering vacuum in the other - it just seemed that The End was unavoidably nigh. Nothing personal to God or whatever. It just felt like the end of the world. And he was going to need more than poor whisky, novelty crackers and a paltry box of Quality Street - all the strawberry ones already scoffed - to justify entering another annum.

Patiently he fixed the Hoover, and vacuumed the living room with a strange methodical finality, shoving the nozzle into the most difficult comers. Solemnly he flipped a coin (heads, life, tails, death) and felt nothing in particular when he found himself staring at the dancing lion. Quietly he detached the Hoover tube, put it in a suitcase, and left the house for the last time.

Copyright© 2000 by Zadie Smith.

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Reading Group Guide

1. White Teeth has generated enormous interest within the publishing world, in part because it is an unusually assured first novel, produced by a writer who is still very young. What aspects of White Teeth—in terms of either style or content—strike you as most unusual in a debut novel? How is White Teeth different from other first novels you have read?

2. A few days before Archie tries to kill himself because his first wife has left him, Samad tries to console him: "You have picked up the wrong life in the cloakroom and you must return it . . . there are second chances; oh yes, there are second chances in life" [p. 11]. Does Archie's marriage to Clara constitute a second chance that improves greatly upon the life he had before he met her? Why does the chapter title call the marriage "peculiar" [p. 3]?

3. Why does Archie like to flip a coin in moments of indecision? What does it say about him as a person? How does the opening epigraph, from E. M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread [p. 1], relate to Archie and his approach to life? Does chance play a more powerful role than will or desire in determining events for other characters in the novel too?

4. Archie "was a man whose significance in the Greater Scheme of Things could be figured along familiar ratios: Pebble: Beach. Raindrop: Ocean. Needle: Haystack" [p. 10]. Does the fact that Archie is so humble, so lacking in ambition or egotism, make him a more comical character than the serious and frustrated Samad? Is Samad's character ultimately funny as well?

5. Samad imagines a sign that he would like to wear at his restaurant job, a sign that proclaims "I am not a waiter. I have been a student, a scientist, a soldier . . ." [p. 49]. Why, in all the years that pass during the novel, does Samad not pursue another job? Is it surprising that Samad doesn't seek to change his life in more active ways? Does Islam play a part in this issue?

6. Why is what happened to Samad and Archie during the war more meaningful to them than anything that will happen in their later lives? Why does Samad expect Archie to kill Dr. Sick for him? What exactly has happened in this village—what has the doctor been doing there? Why does Samad feel that the doctor must die? Would it have been out of character for Archie to execute this man?

7. The narrator notes that "it makes an immigrant laugh to hear the fears of the nationalist, scared of infection, penetration, miscegenation, when this is small fry, peanuts, compared to what the immigrant fears—dissolution, disappearance" [p. 272]. Magid and Millat both shirk their Asian roots, though in different ways. Magid begins to call himself Mark Smith while he is still a schoolboy, while Millat models himself on Robert De Niro's character Travis Bickle in the film Taxi Driver. Irie, on the other hand, is drawn to what she imagines is the "Englishness" of the Chalfens. Is the gradual loss—or active rejection—of one's family heritage an unavoidable consequence of life in a culturally mixed environment?

8. Samad and his wife, Alsana, had a traditional arranged marriage in Bangladesh. Is love irrelevant in a relationship such as theirs? Does the novel indicate that love is a simpler issue for those of the younger generation, who are sexually and emotionally more free to pursue their desires?

9. What is the effect of juxtaposing Alsana with Neena, her "Niece-of-Shame," who is an outspoken feminist and lesbian? Why is Neena one of the novel's most pragmatic—and therefore contented—characters? Why does Alsana ask Neena to act as an intermediary with the Chalfens for Clara and herself?

10. What opportunities for self-expression and community does the sparsely attended but lively pub run by Abdul Mickey offer? Does Smith use the pub as a sort of stage for the everyday comedy and the various ironies of ethnic identity and assimilation in North London? What is funny about the timeline on page 204?

11. Fed up with her own family, Irie goes to stay with her grandmother Hortense, and begins to piece together the details of her ancestry. Does what she learns about her family's history make a difference in her sense of identity or in her ideas about the direction her life should take?

12. What effect does the introduction of the educated, middle-class Chalfen family have on the novel? Why is it significant that Marcus Chalfen comes from a Jewish background? Why are the Chalfens so patronizing toward the Iqbals and the Joneses? Considering Joyce's relationship to Irie and Millat, what is wrong with the liberal sentiments that the Chalfens represent?

13. Why does Smith include an episode in which Millat travels to Bradford with other members of KEVIN to burn copies of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses? Does the fact that none of the boys have actually read the book make their ideological zeal more comical, or more frightening?

14. Why does Smith set up the circumstances of Irie's pregnancy so that it will be impossible for her to know which of the twins is the child's father? How does what we learn about Irie and her daughter on the novel's final page relate to the genealogical chart that appears on page 281?

15. Various characters, from various families in the novel, collide in the novel's climactic scenes leading up to the FutureMouse convention. What are the motivations and beliefs that have put these characters in conflict? Do the issues of religion, science, and animal rights relate to the novel's interest in personal fate and family history?

16. In an interview, Smith says of White Teeth, "I wasn't trying to write about race. . . . Race is obviously a part of the book, but I didn't sit down to write a book about race. The 'Rabbit' books by Updike . . . I could say that [these are] books about race. [Those are] book[s] about white people. [They are] exactly book[s] about race as mine is. It doesn't frustrate me. I just think that it is a bizarre attitude. So is [it that] a book that doesn't have exclusively white people in the main theme must be one about race? I don't understand that."* What are some of the indications in White Teeth that Smith is not as interested in race as she is the juxtaposition and interaction of people from different ethnic groups living their daily lives?

17. Do the children of Archie and Samad experience their ethnic or racial identities in different ways than their parents do? If so, why? Is Smith suggesting that there is a rising trend in intermarriage between members of different races and ethnicities, so that these issues become of less interest, or meaning, as time passes? Is Alsana right when she says, "you go back and back and back and it's still easier to find the correct Hoover bag than to find one pure person, one pure faith, on the globe" [p. 196]?

18. With White Teeth, Zadie Smith shows herself to be a brilliant mimic of the sounds of urban speech. In which parts of the novel does she display this skill to the greatest effect? How does her prose style work to convey the busy, noisy soundscape of a multicultural metropolis?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 102 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(43)

4 Star

(31)

3 Star

(14)

2 Star

(11)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 102 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2002

    Really good, but maybe a tad overrated

    3 1/2 stars, really. Without a doubt, this is an ambitious and successful debut by a talented writer. Smith's voice is distinct and engaging, as well as funny in that sly British way (no American guffawing here). However, I was not 100% in love with 'White Teeth.' I'm not sure why, although it may have something to do with the fact that I invested so much time and energy to the characters (their lives, histories, relationships) only to have the ending kind of dribble to a close. Still, it was an enjoyable read¿¿I'm not sorry I read it and I would recommend it to others. Just be aware that depending on your tastes, it may not quite live up to all the glowing reviews.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2006

    Good but no strong plot

    I really liked Zadie Smith's writing style in that her descriptions were fantastic. The only thing this book was missing was a plot which is fairly important in my opinion. There were too many lulls to make me excited to pick it up to read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2005

    Flawed Characters

    Zadie Smith¿s writing style is without a doubt enjoyable. I laughed out loud. However, my opinion agrees with at least one other review listed here, and I quote the other reviewer because she says it perfectly, ¿if an author chooses to make certain cultures so significant/central to her work, she should at least try to present them accurately.¿ Her references to multiple cultures and religions are founded on shallow research if any at all. My advice to Smith would be to do the research by going to the source next time. Reference is made to stereotypical beliefs instead of actual truths about certain groups of people. Unfortunate for Zadie Smith, this would leave the millions of readers with those backgrounds or beliefs feeling misunderstood and misrepresented. If you are unfamiliar with the cultures and religions represented in this book you will certainly enjoy it. If you are Jamaican or if you have a background with or you are one of Jehovah¿s Witnesses you will find gaping wholes in some of the characters presented.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2002

    Very Enlightening

    I thought this book was very enlightening on how minorities in the UK view life and live it. It was pretty long, I'll admit I did a bit of scimming through some pages, but the characters were very colorful, vibrant and definitely enjoyable. I would like to learn more about the author and her background. I wonder how she seemed to know so much about different cultural backgrounds. Besides evident research, she seemed to know first-hand in some way. Overall, the book is definitely readable, but I'd suggest borrowing it from the library instead of paying the $14.00.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2002

    A book worth reading, if you have some time.

    There were times while reading this book that I was happy to put it down. But there were parts that were riveting. All in all, a solid debut novel by a young novelist. I wouldn't say great, but it's not bad.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2001

    A Pretentious Work of Staggering Boredom

    Smith's prose reads as if she was paid by the word; was Random House unable to afford an editor? Some may say it is an extraordinary work considering Smith is in her early twenties--I would contend it would be extraordinary if her editor was 12. Pretentious phrasing and awkward metaphors plague the novel. Overall, despite significant themes and a serious message about race, class, and gender, White Teeth makes the reader want to use a thick black marker to edit each page. If it was the last book on earth, I would not read it again.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2000

    Mediocre

    From the reviews I heard I expected not to be able to put this book down. However, quite to the contrary it took me forever to read it. It was an ok read nothing to rave about.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2000

    stereotypes

    Great technique.Very well written.But ultimately disapointing.Loaded with silly stereoypes about asians in the uk.No wonder that Rushdie liked it.Must work on her empathy level before writing another book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2013

    I absolutely love this book! It's funny and seems to have someth

    I absolutely love this book! It's funny and seems to have something for just about everyone. I was continually amazed by it and would recommend it to almost anyone. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    Great Writing, author achieves brilliant analysis of multiple cultures.

    As an example of contemporary writing and cohesion Smith reaches excellence. Her ability to show the reader the intricacies of so many cultures is amazing. I enjoyed the novel immensely.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 4, 2012

    I liked the style and development of the characters. Well done d

    I liked the style and development of the characters. Well done debut.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2012

    Excellent read.

    This novel is highly entertaining and insightful; it's darkly comic without cynicism; Zadie Smith creates colorful, complex, and engrossing characters that are more than a match for her lively and inventive narrative voice. I'm looking forward to reading more of Smith's work.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 23, 2012

    While I thought this book was well-written, the plot was dull. I

    While I thought this book was well-written, the plot was dull. It was
    difficult to finish as I was not interested in the story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 9, 2011

    Worthwhile Purchase

    White Teeth by Zadie Smith meets the basic criteria I normally look for in a novel. Zadie Smith's debut is character-based, and does not necessarily focus on plot. I am especially keen to immigrant family sagas, which White Teeth also fulfills, following both the Iqbal and Bowden family histories. The story is driven by the characters' reactions to historical events (ex: the Kingston earthquake in 1907). Although the characters are interesting in the way they react, they do not seem all that unique, especially the minor characters. Archie, Samad, Clara, and the rest of the cast are borderline caricatures that follow the most mundane of racial stereotypes. Smith wisely spreads the story arch around an array of characters rather than specifically focusing on a single character, otherwise we would see how one-dimensional each character is. Zadie Smith more than compensates for her characters with her style of writing. She uses some really interesting techniques that often break conventional rules, and it really works. However, a lot of the metaphors seem all over the place, and forced in certain spots, especially the metaphors regarding teeth. Overall, most of the novel is pretty messy. At times it feels like the story barely holds itself together, yet at other times it seems strong and well-formulated. If you're interested in fiction revolving around Dubois' "double-consciousness" then this is the perfect novel you're looking for. The book is about the difficulties of being influenced by two cultures. Smith shows this on a larger scale, Jamaicans and Asians in England, and on a smaller scale with the Chalfen family. Chalfenism represents how the English involve themselves in the affairs of other cultures under the guise of helping the less fortunate when they are really just helping themselves. Once an culture or individual becomes tangled in the web of "involvedness," it is nearly impossible to become uninvolved.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    Enjoyable

    I enjoyed White Teeth, especially the beginning of the book.I found that the idea was original, and there was a tour de force in the first part of the book that seemed to die down a bit by the end, where I found the book a bit tiresome and stereotypical. But this is the author`s debut work (Zadie Smith is British and wrote this while still at Cambridge University) and I think for a first novel, it is exceptionally well written. At times it reminded of Rushdie`s works, which overall, was a bit disappointing because I thought she has the talent to go on a different path. But it is a good read and I recommend it.

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  • Posted January 19, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    TEDIOUS!

    Very disappointing to me......400+ pages carries more information than was necessary....redundant in parts.

    interesting characters but many too many.....each with a different agenda.
    missed a good deal as humor & idioms unfamiliar to me......unless i painstakingly read word for word.

    cultural comparisons quite good....more realistic than i would have thought.

    overall, a real jumble of motifs, places, time periods, characters...no easy flow or transition from topic to topic. a Book Club might find this feature perfect if ea member took responsibility for 1 area...then sharing might be beneficial.

    More enjoyable & worthwhile was ON BEAUTY by same author. I read that first so my expectations may have been too high for Smith's first novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2009

    disappointed

    Excessive characters and plot lines made this book a bit tedious. There were parts that were beautifully written and the immigrant theme resonated with me, but Smith could have written 3 books instead of including so many stories, characters, and themes in 1 book. Couldn't wait for it to end!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2007

    Great Great Great

    I wouldnt label myself as a 'reader' but i finished this book in two days. Major page turner.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2007

    Different

    A book about race and immigrant life in London, WHITE TEETH is one of the most fascinating reads I've come across in a long time. I'm attracted to novels set in different locales and those that venture into territory I'm not familiar with, so this novel was perfect for me. The author does a bang up job of incorporating just about everything into this novel: culture, technology, religion--all of it relevant to the story. The only other novel that did this for me was 'Bark of the Dogwood' which also incorporated these things and actually compelled me to read it twice. I highly recommend WHITE TEETH for anyone interested in an incredible examinnation of the human spirit.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2006

    A Riveting read

    White Teeth fully qualifies as a refreshing as novel. . The characters are lively, identifiable and rich. I also found the dialogue to be rich, one of the reasons that kept the book interesting throughout the read. I was entranced as to what is coming next and kept on reading and reading until the last page.

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