On New Year's morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archieworking-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his beltis calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie's car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.
Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant, White Teeth is the story of two North London familiesone headed by Archie, the other by Archie's best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for "no problem"). Samaddevoutly Muslim, hopelessly "foreign"weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union. They have twin sons named Millat and Magid, one a pot-smoking punk-cum-militant Muslim and the other an insufferable science nerd. The riotous and tortured histories of the Joneses and the Iqbals are fundamentally intertwined, capturing an empire's worth of cultural identity, history, and hope.
Zadie Smith's dazzling first novel plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant café, a liberal publicschool, a sleek science institute. A winning debut in every respect, White Teeth marks the arrival of a wondrously talented writer who takes on the big themesfaith, race, gender, history, and cultureand triumphs.
About the Author:
Zadie Smith is twenty-four years old and a graduate of Cambridge University. White Teeth is her first novel, parts of which have appeared in Granta. Smith lives in North London.|
|Publisher:||Baker & Taylor, CATS|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.25(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:October 27, 1975
Place of Birth:Willesden, London, England
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.
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.'
'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.'
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.
What People are Saying About This
Zadie Smith's fizzing first novel is about how we all got here--from the Caribbean, from the Indian subcontinent, from thirteenth place in a long-ago Olympic bicycle race--and about what 'here' turned out to be. It's an astonishingly assured debut, funny and serious, and the voice has real writerly idiosyncrasy. I was delighted by White Teeth and often impressed. It has....bite.
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 restaurantjob, 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?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is a multi-layered, thought-provoking and extremely funny novel that tackles timely and sensitive topics with a rare, nuanced touch. Archie Jones is the archetypical Everyman-a working-class man with low ambitions and a seemingly simplistic view of the world. As White Teeth opens, he is on the edge of a successful suicide attempt when he is saved by a Halal Butcher who is more disturbed by Archie’s car blocking his deliveries than by the fact that he has discovered a man on the brink of death. Archie gains a new zest for life after being pulled back from the brink and is riding high on his new-found optimism when he encounters the enchanting Clara at a nearby party. She is a statuesque Jamaican woman who is also coincidentally seeking change and the two make quite an unusual pair. From their union the story blossoms to envelop other wonderfully imagined characters, each struggling in some way with the cultural clashes, traditions and identities that are enmeshed in an increasingly diverse British city. Smith addresses the juxtaposition of faith and science, cultural preservation and integration of immigrants, violent protest and tolerant acceptance. Although these topics can easily be rendered too heavy and didactic, Zadie Smith manages to provide incisive commentary on these important issues while also skillfully unfolding an addictive narrative with characters worth caring about.
Zadie Smith¿s White Teeth is a wild, raucous, rollicking, joyful, sad, funny tale about life in immigrant families in North London in the years leading up to the start of the 21st century. That it is as important and timely today as when it was published twelve years ago only solidifies her reputation as a gifted and talented writer.The book opens in 1975 as Archie Jones is sitting in his car, trying to asphyxiate himself with a vacuum cleaner hose that¿s attached to the car¿s exhaust system. His wife has divorced him and life doesn¿t seem worth living. He¿s saved because he parked his car (inconveniently) next to the Halal butcher who was waiting for a load of bovine and this just will not do. Archie is thankful to be saved and goes on to marry Clara Bowden, whose black roots go back to Jamaica and Jehovah¿s Witnesses. Archie, friends with Samad Iqbal sine the war, whose roots, along with those of his wife Alsana go back to Bangladesh. For the most part, the book is about these two families and the problems faced by immigrants across the world and through the generations. Later in the story, another purely British family, liberal intellectuals, is introduced and, paradoxically, the pot really begins to boil. Their interference in the lives of the Jones and Iqbal children, at the expense of their own children, provides another interesting look at the diversity of modern society.¿This has been the century of strangers, brown, yellow and white. This has been the century of the great immigrant experience. It is only this late in the day that you can walk into a playground and find Isaac Leung by the fish pond, Danny Rahman in the football cage, Quang O¿Rourke bouncing a basketball and Irie Jones humming a tune. Children with first and last names on a direct collision course. Names that secrete within them mass exodus, cramped boats and planes, cold arrivals, medical checkups. It is only this late in the day, and only in Willesden, that you can find best friends Sita and Sharon, constantly mistaken for each other because Sita is white (her mother liked the name) and Sharon is Pakistani (her mother thought it best---less trouble). Yet despite all the mixing up, despite the fact that we have finally slipped into each other¿s lives with reasonable comfort (like a man returning to his lover¿s bed after a midnight walk), despite all this, it is still hard to admit that there is no one more English than the Indian, no one more Indian than the English. There are still young white men who are angry about that; who will roll out at closing time into the poorly lit streets with a kitchen knife wrapped in a tight fist.¿ (Page 272)Smith¿s forte is characterization and, I must say, she is wizard-like as she develops these characters and, through them, explores the issues of race, sex and class facing, not only the UK, but countries all over the world. Delving into multiculturalism through multiple points of view allows the reader a unique perspective. The white teeth of the title expound on this theme.I found White Teeth to be wildly funny and yet terribly thought provoking and prescient (this was, after all published before 9/11). Highly recommended.
I probably would¿ve never found out about Zadie Smith were it not for the David Foster Wallace listserv I joined recently. The group (which apparently has been active for at least the last 12 years) propose topics from time to time and through an email chain let¿s members chime in with their thoughts that essentially cover the entirety of the late authors life and any tangent thereof. A few weeks ago someone suggested a few novels that sort of rang true to the way DFW¿s own prose presented itself, one of them being Smith¿s 2000 novel (the other two that I can recall were The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides and Parallel Stories by Peter Nadal). So I decided to take it up and see.What follows in its 450 pages covers events in multiple familial time lines dating back to 1857 (well, the religious stuff goes a bit further but isn¿t the most prominently featured) and touches heavily upon a debate that very clearly dominated the television show Lost: Religion (faith) vs. Science. The debate doesn¿t particularly get going until the third act when multiple plot threads meet up in 1992 but by the time you get there you have a firm grasp on the factors motivating the Jones¿, Bowden¿s, Iqbal¿s, and Chalfen¿s on their respective paths.The sticking point of the novel revolves around Archibald Jones and Samad Iqbal, two men who were stationed in the same squad of misfits during WWII, a friendship that develops for decades to come, adding wives and children to the mix who don¿t necessarily share similar world views, despite their native customs. The book begins in 1974 where Archibald, having recently been divorced by his wife, decides not to kill himself, leading to a chance meeting with Clara Bowden, mixed from Jamaican descent, at a new year¿s party. Despite a thirty year age gap the two marry several weeks later and soon have a girl, Irie Jones.Through that emerging marriage we¿re introduced to the Iqbal¿s, Samad and Alsana. Of Bangladesh descent, the Iqbal¿s traditional arranged marriage (with also several decades separating ages of man and wife) is rife with domestic fights and disagreements about how to raise their kids, twins Magid and Millat. Their most consistent debate is how to instill traditional religious values without becoming corrupt to the Western ways living in London that directly conflict with the teachings of Islam and devotion to Allah. Wanting to thwart the influence of Western culture and fortify his sons¿ faith in religion Samad singlehandedly (and after much oscillation) decides to drain his resources to send a ten-year old Magid back to Bangladesh in hopes of sparing him from what he sees as a `Kaffir existence¿.The crucial turning point occurs at Glenard Oak Academy when a school-wide sweep of the campus, in a vain attempt to thwart the perceived smoking threat of cannabis and tobacco, ensnares Irie, Millat, and walking doormat Joshua Chalfen. His parents, the Chalfens¿, who are intellectual and scientific powerhouses (and perhaps the most naivest bubble family on the planet), take on the task of educating the trio as punishment and invariably drive the Iqbal¿s and Jones¿ on a collision course nine years later when a genetic engineering experiment known as FutureMouse! threatens the foundations of several religious outfits.Smith¿s book is entirely about the agonizing over cultural customs that have long defined a particular group and how best to deal with them while living in a place that doesn¿t necessarily recognize your full human rights. How to deal when your children choose a path separate from the one you originally envisioned. How best to hang on to your heritage when your lineage isn¿t terribly well-defined or respected. How it sometimes feel like every pair of eyes are on you because you look different, and all of the accompanying self-doubt and despair (Irie¿s mixed race heritage figures prominently into this in the earlier chapters). Samad, and to a certain extent Irie, feel this conflict as often as
an entertaining trifle. definitely not the best book of the new century. she tells you what you are supposed to get, and the big-hearted, wide-ranging, multicultural, comedic elements are simply there for the sake of the author's ability to convey them.
Man, I've got to read something really good really soon. Not my favorite streak I'm having. I bought this paperback (it is a green one, I wish my cover was on GoodReads!) when it was brand new, and I've moved it with me a dozen times unread. So hopeful! Oh well.There just wasn't any meaning for me. No one was moving, no development felt impactful, several were distasteful. Nothing I thought had a through-line did. I thought I saw the ending coming and it turned out to just be listless instead of predictable. I think it's just not my style, the overreaching literary fiction with all those sassy modern words, and characters of great failure.I did like some ideas. The family betrayals had some sting, and the concept that when you choose your way in life you also are mostly "so eloquently" expressing your history. And the parts in the middle about the exquisitely hubristic Chalfens were sort of ok.And I couldn't help thinking... Zadie Smith writes like a man? I'm not even sure what I mean by that, but the book's focus is so ordinary and masculine. Women and men writing books about men is great, it's fine, but my feeling is it would be a better idea if in doing so there was something good or important about it. (Shouldn't that be the case with any novel's selected characters? Why select them?) For having so many characters, there was such a tiny range of perspective. And when we learned a little about the women through the men's chapters and the daughter's, their progress was often more interesting than the focal characters'. I don't know why we couldn't watch Clara's awakening, Alsana's westernization, the niece's shame.Oh, and that sex scene was like something a 12-year-old wrote about "Smallville."
Engaging, humorous, and poetic---the characters and plots within Smith's novel are both fascinating and believable. Absolutely worth the time and the journey to explore.
It seems that many of the characters in White Teeth do not know what to do with history. Smith tries to write the family histories and stories of her main characters, but she finds that by writing these stories new characters with new stories surface, and while the lives of these minor characters might not be important to the overall plot, they construct a multi-cultural England where everyone¿s origin stories bleed into one another and muddle the notion of ¿Englishness.¿ It seems that Archie and Samad are unsure about what is to be done with history. This seems to be a question Smith poses throughout the novel: not whether or not we need history, but what people are supposed to do with the knowledge they have of their culture, roots, and traditions. Archie finds that no one wants to hear about his experience in the Second World War, which is probably the most exciting experience he¿s had in his life. People don¿t want to talk about the war anymore because ¿it [is] like a clubfoot, or a disfiguring mole¿ (12). No one wants to face the war; they want to silence the memory until it is forgotten. The only trouble is that it is Archie¿s ¿biggest memory,¿ something he had ¿done in his life.¿ Archie looks to become a war correspondent in 1955, but he is told that ¿war experience isn¿t really relevant¿ (12) for the job. And this is what Archie needs to confront. Nothing he did in his life¿in his past¿is relevant for getting on, for the furtherance of culture. Everything he learned is ¿not transferable,¿ just as his experience in the war is ¿not transferable.¿ His only other truly great memory is erased from British culture ¿by a sloppy secretary who returned one morning after a coffee break with something else on her mind¿ (13). He tied for thirteenth place in the Olympics for track cycling, something ¿he was consistently good at¿ (13). So Archie has no transferable skills and his history is irrelevant to his present life. Instead of committing suicide, he decides to become a new Archie, to create a new life. He decides to relive his life and ¿chooses a route he¿s never taken before¿ (15).Samad cannot leave his history behind¿he refuses to recreate himself, to accept that his culture is of little use to him in England. He believes that waiting tables is beneath him (he is unable to find work better suited to his qualifications) and he constantly needs ¿to reassert something, anything¿ to anyone who will listen (or pretend to), like the ¿Ancient Mariner.¿ In Coleridge¿s poem, the Mariner stops a man on his way to a wedding to tell the story of his long journey to. The Mariner kills an albatross that led him and his crew out of Antarctica, which eventually leads to his crew¿s damnation. Death and Life-in-Death roll dice for the souls of the Ancient Mariner and his crew. The crew is won by Death, and the Mariner is won by Life-in-Death, which leaves him to live a life of telling his story over and over again to everyone he meets. Samad suffers this same fate¿Life-in-Death. He cannot grow or become a ¿new Samad¿ because he doesn¿t want to be. He is in despair over his life in England¿¿I am a Muslim but Allah has forsaken me or I have forsaken Allah, I¿m not sure¿ (49).It seems that we all have a choice: we can either let our history remain in the past and allow ourselves to move away from it toward something greater; or we can refuse to accept a life without history and tradition and remain in one place and tell the same story no one even wants to listen to anymore. Take your pick.
Another of those much talked-about books that I wanted to read, to see what all the fuss was about.I agree with the hype to the extent that it's a book on an impressive scale, original and witty, a tale for our modern multicultural age. Whole passages stick in my memory a long time after reading it - the row over the Harvest Festival, the introduction of O'Connell's Poole House ('neither Irish nor a Pool House'!), the hilarious Jehovah's Witness interludes.On the minus side, I thought some momentum was lost around about two thirds of the way in, and though the Chalfens (a family introduced quite late on) are impressively bumptious, I felt they hijacked the storyline a bit.All in all, I'm glad I read it because the good bits really were very very good.
Numerous characters, ethnicities, and generations are explored in Zadie Smith's novel about life in the extremely diverse city of London. Two families, the Iqbals and the Jones', navigate their way through life while maintaining a certain bond with one another that cannot be defined in simple terms due to friendly and romantic feelings by various family members.
The novel deals with two families connected by the friendship of their fathers which goes back to World War II. Archie Jones, who in the opening pages attempted suicide, soon after meets and marries a girl less than half his age, Clara Bowden. She's a girl of Jamaican extraction raised as a Jehovah's Witness described, when she enters the story, as having no upper teeth. This is how she sees her husband three months after the wedding: No white knight, then, this Archibald Jones. No aims, no hopes, no ambitions. A man whose greatest pleasures were English breakfasts and DIY. A dull man. Unfortunately, I think that's pretty accurate--about all the characters: Dull. Which isn't entirely true of Smith's voice. There is a sense of humor evident--but not a warm one, or even an angry, biting one. More that of someone who enjoys taking people down several pegs, undermining her own characters. I just couldn't connect to any of them--they seemed to range from "dull" to repellent. A turning point for me was the chapter of flashback about Archie and his friend Samad Iqbal during World War II about 100 pages in. Both are involved in something heinous for trite reasons. I limped on dozens of pages beyond that point, but stopped when I realized I just couldn't care why they did it or anything else. I just wanted out. I didn't want to spend time with these people.
I read this book about a month ago and have been putting off writing this review ever since - not because I disliked the book (on the contrary, it's among my top 5 reads of the year so far), but because it seems almost impossible to summarize without oversimplifying. At its core, this book is about individuals with flaws, and the ways in which one's best intentions can cause pain. No character is condemned but none is blameless, either. It's a very complicated read, obviously, but beautifully wrought. Other themes touched on include racism, gender, religion, and immigrant culture.
A book sadly in need of an editor and an ending. A lot of hoopla for the author back when this came out; maybe that had something to do with multiculturalism. I made it to the end, but basically she couldn't come up with a compelling denouement. My wife warned me and I didn't listen. Since we only have a finite amount of time on this planet to read, I will now be very, very careful when listening to the Booker and other British tastemakers.
There is no doubt that Zadie Smith can write, however, I am thrilled that I read On Beauty first! The end of this book could not come fast enough - to the degree that I was sure the pages multipied as I turned them. Besides her wonderful writing style, I found nothing redeeming about this book. On Beauty, however... completely opposite opinion.
Begins by wonderfully peeling off rings of flesh from fresh, vivacious, New London, with a particular ear for verbal ticks and pangs. However, explodes sometime midway, mushrooming into a top-heavy, clumsily earnest paean. Waddles into a shallow stream of magical realism and drowns like a fat baby. But worth it for that beginning half.
How can this monumentous book be summed up in a few short sentences? Let's just say that Smith's writing is brilliant, cuttingly witty and totally hilarious. The ending left me a might dissatisfied, but overall I'm really happy I got to read this book.
White Teeth is more than a story of friends, more than a story of families, more than a story that tells what would happen if... This is a book that you pick up and simply must read to the end because you cannot put it down. The characters are deeply developed, each with their own emotions, needs, fears and voices. Like all of us, they are driven by what is happening in their lives, by what has happened in the past and by what dreams they have for what will happen in the future. Each accent is perfectly written, each emotion is perfectly displayed. The author doesn't just draw you in to the plot of something, Zadie Smith makes you a part of all of their lives.The story is creatively written from beginning to end and packed full of meaningful quotes or events that will cause the reader to reflect on themselves or someone they know. More than once while reading I had to stop and think to myself, "I need to remember that, those are words to live by."While it's obvious to see why it made the Orange Award nomination list, I simply can't understand how it could come in behind as less than a winner. Anything as well written as this book should be the top of anyone's list.
This was my first Zadie Smith novel, and I was very impressed. My first thought about this book was that it was very well written. I thought Smith dealt with the subject matter of race and religion very well here. One thing which really made these issues stick out was her characterization. Another thing I really liked about this book was how Smith leaves the reader questioning the roles of science and fate in our lives. This book made me laugh but also made me contemplate.
I really enjoyed the characters, and a definitive plus is that many are described in detail, also side characters. At times I found it a bit dull/ too long, and then again I got carried away by the story. What makes this earn a 4-star rating is how it ends, I thoght it was an excellent ending, surprising and yet very true to the rest of the book.