Drawing you in with the immediacy of her tantalizing wit, Zadie Smith sets herself apart as a defining voice of contemporary literature. Her internationally acclaimed novel boldly and humorously bridges three London families across a cultural and generational divide.
©2000 Zadie Smith; (P)2001 Recorded Books
"The scrambled, heterogeneous sprawl of mixed-race and immigrant family life in gritty London nearly overflows the bounds of this stunning, polymathic debut novel." (Publishers Weekly)
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
“...the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect.”
― Zadie Smith, White Teeth
I planned on writing my full review of this book a couple days after I read it in October of 2014. I was afraid if I wrote it immediately it would be too sappy, too indulgent, too full of praise. I would probably just go on and on and you all might think I was in love or something. So, like I am want, I put the review off -- meaning to get to it -- and here I am finally writing about the book almost two years after I first read it. I don't know if the delay points more towards my sometimes best laid plans falling and failing, or my anal need to complete the circle and check things off lists.
Seriously, the book was fantastic. I loved it. It was a big, hairy, kinky, ambitious first novel and Zadie Smith pulled it off. I'm not sure why I'm reading so many novels (McTeague) concerned with dentistry and teeth lately. A bit weird. Anyway, enough!
I'm glad I waited, however, because Zadie Smith seems to posses for England that same fresh breath that Lin-Manuel Miranda exhibits with his musical Hamilton. Sometimes, a place is best described by immigrants to that place. Sometimes the change that happens to a city or nation because of immigrants is hard to measure in the first couple years. Just look at London now. London has elected its first Muslim mayor. This has more to do with some of the huge demographic changes than with a super-multiculturalism in London, but it still isn't nothing.
I remember reading a short article in the Guardian a while back that pointed out that in regards to Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh, “the three groups share many areas in common, but the Punjabi Sikhs in Southall and southeast London, the Gujarati Hindus in northwest London, and the Bengali Muslims in Tower Hamlets stand out most of all.” (The Guardian). The thing I loved was just realizing that the London of Dickens and Shakespeare was now a completely different place. It was a place where the colonized were becoming the colonizers. It was a giant piece of Karma. And not in a bad way. The greatest piece of wisdom is we never fully grasp the bad and the good of our decisions and policies. I'm pretty damn sure Queen Victoria and those that followed her and advised her never saw this coming as they began the British Raj.
So, I love how 'White Teeth' just swirls and dances and dervishes with ideas of race, identity, and religious antagonism. The book is a fiction, but the competition between ethnicities, even while the white majority loses their shit is not fiction. Even though 'White Teeth' debuted as the 21st century was dawning, it painted a fictionalized but very real novel about the struggles America, England, and Europe are going through right now. Think of the reaction to Muslim refugees, the hostility that Barack Obama faced over his birth-certificate, the fear that drives the radical right agendas from Hungary to Norway as Western Europe and Western Civilization loses (gradually) their majority lock on political and demographic power. When the mayor of London and the President of the United States of America wouldn't have been allowed to eat in the same high-brow London and New York clubs 60 years ago, it is kinda amazing to see how far we've come. However, it is also humbling when you read blogs and comments and hell, just watch Trump on Fox News to see how far we still need to go.
Anyway, back to 'White Teeth'. The brilliance of this book is Zadie Smith addresses all of this with humor, beauty and narrative magic. She avoids the twin traps of triviality and preachiness. She spins a fascinating yarn that entertains while pushing the reader to grapple with the realities that were faced by Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal in 1945, and the realities we faced when Obama was elected, and the problems we all currently face.
Fundamentally, I believe, things become a lot simpler when we can view people as individuals. Viewing Zadie Smith as an individual it is easy to see her brilliance, her potential, and her ability from her first book to play with the big boys of English fiction. The future is already here and Zadie Smith is just waiting for history and the rest of us to catch up.
When my book club chose this title I checked it out of my local library but couldn't get through 10 pages without falling asleep. I was thrilled to find it on Audible. While it takes forever for the plot to develop... nearly two thirds of the way into the story... I thoroughly enjoyed the narrator. She voiced every character so well you hardly needed to be told who was speaking! While it is a long story and it takes a while for the plot to develop, the reader and ending are worth the wait
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
A smart, hilarious, and surprisingly knowing novel for such a young author (who belongs to my own generation), White Teeth is one of my favorite books. Beginning with the absurd failed suicide of a haplessly indecisive middle-aged Englishman named Archie, who reminds me a little of Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, then moving on to his friend Samad, a hilariously self-important, argumentative Bengali (whose "slapping your salami" discussion had me snorting with laughter and trying not to drive off the road), the story eventually comes to encompass the key members of three colorfully fractious families, across several generations.
This book is similar to Joseph Heller's Catch-22 in that it uses exaggerated characters and absurd situations to make its point. But, in my opinion, Smith writes with a keen eye for satire and an effortless authority that suggests much personal experience with born-again Jamaican grandmothers, irascible Indian housewives, white hippie-scientists with overly progressive parenting styles, and other figures that populate multicultural, urban Britain. Some readers might fault her for being a little too cynical with her characters, who are put into caricature boxes that they never quite manage to escape, or a little too self-indulgent (which I thought was true in spots) but, overall, I enjoyed her wit and felt that it was rooted in compassion, offering surprisingly mature insights into culture clashes, growing up, growing older, and the mental contortions people put themselves through in order to put on a front for the world or themselves, despite what they actually feel inside.
White Teeth isn't a very plot-driven book, taking snapshots of its central figures and their lives through multiple decades, but it's this epic sweep, I think, that really gives Smith's novel resonance. From beneath the comic posturing and postulations of her characters emerges a true sense of the vital undercurrents of history, as seen by a member of the generation about to inherit it. Few writers in their 30s show such talent, let alone those among Smith's 20-something peers (back when she wrote the book, that is). Vibrant, funny, and moving -- highly recommended.
The audiobook rendering was excellent, and might even make the listening experience preferable to reading the print version. The narrator did a great job with all the accents.
Colourful and entertaining! a Good read. I enjoyed the blend of cultures and religions. Zadie Smith has a good grasp of inter-race relationship between 1st generation foreigners living in London.
I have listened to On Beauty and loved it, but White Teeth really bites into the depth of the divide between east and west, Muslim and Christian (and atheist) with a marvelously rendered set of characters. The plot does have a long developmental arc, but that seems beside the point. The characters and the subplots are of sufficient interest in themselves. The resolution was a bit over the top, but this book isn't about realism. All of the loose ends were tied up in a not-too-tidy bundle, because this story is anything but tidy.
Jenny Sterlin does a great job with the narration.
I liked the comedic parts of this book,but felt that it could have been a little better plot-wise.The sudden political parts confused me,when the narrator went from a paragraph about the family and then to something about a war and somewbody being a captain....if it wasn't for that,I'dve given it another star.
After reading On Beauty, which was FABULOUS, I could hardly wait to read White Teeth, Zadie Smith's first book. What a disappointment! I found it very difficult to follow the transitions between characters and didn't find any of the characters interesting enough to make me want to follow them. There was very little light or redemption in site and the characters were not only bleek and seedy but boring as well. In the end, I gave up about 2/3 of the way through, telling myself "this is just more than I wanted to know about turtles".
I wanted to like this book. Between the reviews on here and on Amazon, I thought I was going to like it. The narrator had a really annoying accent, but that aside, I could not get into the story. The characters are shallow and not well developed enough to make you care about the story. When the author does spend time developing characters, it seems like a misguided focus on mundane aspects of their lives. I even tried fast forwarding through a large part of the middle of the story, hoping it would get better later, but that did not happen. I could not spend over 23 hours of my life on this book. 9 hours were enough to make me want my credits back!
A good read, a fantastic reader, but all the absurd coincidences and implausible plot turns ruined it for me in the end.
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