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Epic in scale and intimate in approach, White Teeth is a formidably ambitious debut. First novelist Zadie Smith takes on race, sex, class, history, and the minefield of gender politics, and such is her wit and inventiveness that these weighty subjects seem effortlessly light. She also has an impressive geographical range, guiding the reader from Jamaica to Turkey to Bangladesh and back again.
Still, the book's home base is a scrubby North London borough, where we encounter Smith's unlikely heroes: prevaricating Archie Jones and intemperate Samad Iqbal, who served together in the so-called Buggered Battalion during World War II. In the ensuing decades, both have gone forth and multiplied: Archie marries beautiful, bucktoothed Clara--who's on the run from her Jehovah's Witness mother--and fathers a daughter. Samad marries stroppy Alsana, who gives birth to twin sons. Here is multiculturalism in its most elemental form: "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 checks."
Big questions demand boldly drawn characters. Zadie Smith's aren't heroic, just real: warm, funny, misguided, and entirely familiar. Reading their conversations is like eavesdropping. Even a simple exchange between Alsana and Clara about their pregnancies has a comical ring of truth: "A woman has to have the private things--a husband needn't be involved in body business, in a lady's... parts." And the men, of course, have their own involvement in bodily functions:
The deal was this: on January 1, 1980, like a New Year dieter who gives up cheese on the condition that he can have chocolate, Samad gave up masturbation so that he might drink. It was a deal, a business proposition, that he had made with God: Samad being the party of the first part, God being the sleeping partner. And since that day Samad had enjoyed relative spiritual peace and many a frothy Guinness with Archibald Jones; he had even developed the habit of taking his last gulp looking up at the sky like a Christian, thinking: I'm basically a good man. Not all of White Teeth is so amusingly carnal. The mixed blessings of assimilation, for example, are an ongoing torture for Samad as he watches his sons grow up. "They have both lost their way," he grumbles. "Strayed so far from what I had intended for them. No doubt they will both marry white women called Sheila and put me in an early grave." These classic immigrant fears--of dilution and disappearance--are no laughing matter. But in the end, they're exactly what gives White Teeth its lasting power and undeniable bite. --Eithne Farry
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. Archie--working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt--is 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 families--one 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"). Samad--devoutly 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 caf¨¦, a liberal public school, 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 themes--faith, race, gender, history, and culture--and triumphs.
From the Hardcover edition.
- I don't get it.
I've just finished this novel and I must say, I just don't get it. It won two prestigious literary awards, plus has had any number of luminaries gushing over it. Huh???? I honestly don't even get what the novel was supposed to be about. It meandered all over the place, with characters dropping in and out of the narrative willy nilly. For example, Clara, who figured largely in the early part of the novel, drops out completely one third of the way through, and only makes a minor reappearance later: the author spends a long time describing the animal liberation group FATE, only to have them suddenly disappear into the ether. The characters were, without exception, objectionable, nasty pieces of work and not one of them engaged me emotionally. The novel is too long and I really found it a hard slog to wade through for very little return. I do not recommend this novel - please,spend your money on something else, don't waste your time with this....more info
- White Teeth Review
This novel is fun, humerous and somewhat educational. Zadie Smith's characters come to life to represent different cultures, religions, and beliefs. You immediately sympathize with the characters and are eager to find out if they find what it is they are looking for in life. The best aspect of the novel was the humor. Smith uses funny nicknames and odd characters to make the novel more enjoyable. Although Smith tends to go off into tangents where you seem to get lost, she quickly picks up where she left off to keep you interested....more info
Archie Jones, a white working class Englishman and Samad Iqbal, a Bangladeshi Muslim, have been friends since their days as army buddies during World War II. Both received permanent injuries during their service and both tended to live in the past. There is Archie's second wife, Clara, who is Jamaican and the daughter of Hortense Bowden, a very observant Jehovah's Witness. Samad is married to Alsana, who, like her husband is from Bangladesh. They have identical twin sons, Millat and Magid, who are as different from each other as apples and oranges. Where Millat was a handsome, somewhat frivolous ladies' man, who later gets involved with an extremist Muslim group, Magid was serious minded, scholarly, interested in scientific experimentation, and completely non-religious. The Jones' daughter, Irie, racially mixed and very bright and sensitive, was infatuated with the undeserving Millat.
Enter the Chalfens--Marcus, a Jewish scientist involved with a controversal genetic engineering project, and June, his Christian wife, who loved botany. Their son, Josh, was a classmate of Millat and Irie, who are both "semi-adopted" by Josh's parents (much to Josh's consternation) as a form of social engineering. Clara, and especially the naturally suspicious Alsana, viewed the Chalfen's efforts as meddlesome--or worse.
Zadie Smith has written a wise and extraordinarily funny book. The parts concerning Magid sitting with his jeans on in a bathtub filled with water and Joyce's comments to Alsana's lesbian niece and her girlfriend are laugh out loud funny. Sometimes the characters are a bit comic bookish--as are two of the domino playing denizens of O'Connell's Bar, Samad's efforts to have his so-called "revolutionary hero" great grandfather's portrait hung there, and Archie's being so indecisive that he cannot make a decision without flipping a coin. Ms. Smith, though, has a wonderful ear for dialogue and a real feel for adolescent angst.
Racial, ethnic, religious, and moral tensions reach a crescendo, with an inevitable clash near the end of the book. As in real life, the combatants find a specific focus for their hostilities. What ultimately happens may or may not have been a product of someone's hallucination....more info
- Same old, same old
While "White Teeth" is at times a funny and interesting novel, it is symptomatic of many such books and films about British ethnic minorities, for example "Bend it like Beckham". While the hardships of serving up curry or running a corner shop might raise a few laughs first time round, to turn the observation of cliches regarding South Asians and Jamaicans in Britain into a fictional genre is a step too far. And this is what "White Teeth" is - not more than a catalogue of cliches regarding Bangladeshis and Jamaicans. The characters are likeable but rather one-dimensional - why buy "White Teeth" when you could chat to a Jamaican or a Bangladeshi about their historical experiences ?...more info
- There is something about young writers
This is probably one of the best books I have read in this century. We, elderly readers, have usually fair memories and can stack one writer against the other. By every comparison, Ms. Smith winns hands down. Her language is original and refreshing. Her characters very much alive. If they suffer from common falacies she can treat all of it in very humane and understanding way. The story she tells is fascinating,well conceived and even better executed. The resolution is unusual in any case.Of all the young writers publishing in English currently (and I've read a few) she is my favorite.
P.S. Re next question - I'm 85 years old....more info
- the funniest book I've read
"White Teeth" confidently depicts the experience of living in multi-ethnic London, a city that functions in 300 languages. The book traces the lives and relationships of two British families living there from the `70's to the millennium. One family (the Iqbals) is Muslim from Bangladesh. The other (the Jones) mixes Jamaican and white British working-class; this family's grandmother is a Jehovah's Witness. A third family of white British intellectuals (the Chalfens) is introduced halfway through the book; its religion is Itself.
Set mainly in north-west London (Willesden, Cricklewood, and Kilburn), the book courses its way through more than 20 other areas of the city. Its humble settings include a halal butcher's shop, a marriage registry in Ludgate Hill, a hair-straightening salon in Kilburn, an Indian restaurant off Leicester Square, a commune in Queens Park and a dingy Irish pub that's run by Iraqis but later agrees to display a picture of a Bangla ancestor-hero to make one of its longest customers feel respected. External symbols of London and definitions of `Britishness' are changing.
Internally, the families' members feel a loss of control over their lives' directions. They're caught between two worlds, alienated by both. They struggle with fatherless upbringings, religious adherence and identity crises while trying to absorb and reflect what's good or demanded of a Western lifestyle while rejecting what's bad about it. What always was 'right' now seems 'wrong' or no longer works. Misjudgments must be endured practically and spiritually.
Through the dilemmas of her characters, the author questions the usefulness of tradition to the formation of culture. She illustrates how repeated racist violence pushes victims towards fundamentalist beliefs and action. At a time when there is no reliable guidepost to deal with daunting modern issues, she allows us to laugh at them.
My one complaint is the book's ending. Its `twist' is confusing, tenuous, irrelevant and unneeded.
Although written pre-9/11, I think the book accurately represents how London still feels now. As Smith said in interviews, her goal was to portray the big picture of life in London. She accomplished that on a grand scale.
If you have finished the book, you may want to look at a recent article entitled, "Zadie didn't tell the real race story". Published in `The Sunday Times' on February 19, 2006, it reports a negative opinion of "White Teeth" by one Ziad Haider Rahman. He purportedly served as Smith's inspiration for the character of Majid; his younger brother, Jimmi, was a model for Millat. Haider says that Smith distorted the true state of British race relations and whitewashed his anger towards the racist attacks he suffered there. (Obiously, those attacks did not actually obstruct his gaining a good living there!)
- Brilliant Debut, But...
The reviews here are very interesting and I must confess that I wrestled mightily with my own final analysis. Let's get the obvious out of the way, Ms. Smith has a compelling, original voice as a social commentator but her characters do not! The genre is English satire and while the author has oodles of talent in the area of biting satire, she also falls into the trap of peopling her first novel with caracitures not real flesh and blood individuals (isn't this ironic considering it's largely a book about bias in race relations?) The novel lacks any semblance of character development- so we end up not giving a hoot about any of the protagonists. They are simple set pieces for Ms. Smith's parodies and writerly talents. As mentioned in several other reviews, her dialogue is very weak and the plot contrived. Having said that, Ms. Smith provides wonderful observations on just about any subject and displays an assured hand with language. I would like to read one day a contemporary English novel where the British class system is not the main topic. ...more info
- Sink in your white teeth!
To be honest, in the aftermath of the July 7 bombings in London, my mind flew back to this novel, the brilliant literary debut from then 23 year old Zadie Smith. Why? Some common elements between the two.
It's a witty, funny, and touching look at the lives of some immigrant families in the UK. In particular, the intertwining of the families of white Archie Jones (a `loser' married to a black West Indian woman Clara) and his friend Samad Iqbal, a muslim originally from Bangladesh (who tries to bring up his twin sons (Millat and Magid) to be good muslims, and at the same time decent British citizens).
Archie has a beautiful but confused daughter Irie, and her relationship with her parents, as well as with her maternal grandmother is a mix of comical and sad.
Samad, on the other hand, is worried that his sons are derailing from the religious path he has tried so hard to steer them along and in despair sends one (Magid) off to Bangladesh to acquire traditional and religious rooting. However, Magid comes back drastically changed, and there lies the parallel with July 7. No, he does not become a suicide bomber but you do get some insight into the thinking of these people.
The characters in this book are not super heroes, or anything that glamorous; just simple, warm, funny, confused individuals, something like you and me? A very vivid look at the multi ethnic hot pot of London.
Very well written and captivating, it was made into a TV series in the UK in 2001. A brilliant debut!
- Too Unique to Pass Up [T]
Blending numerous unique and eclectic characters into British late-20th century society, the author creates a whirlwind finale where the different people with different perspectives appear to all agree or disagree for reasons to which none of the others can condone.
Half Jewish/half-not-Jewish Joshua Chalfen seems an oddity - but he is actually the most normal of the most normal British. His peers include 3/8th's Jamaican black and 5/8th-not, Irie Jones, whose mother leaves the JW teachings in her teens to fall into the arms of Archie Jones, a simple man who is decades her senior, and someone much less tall. Archie's WW II buddy Samad Iqbal marries someone of his color and nation and age, and fathers a child (actually twins) almost simultaneously with best friend Archie.
We then fast forward to the children being teenagers, and how they conflict with their parents who are anything but Ozzie and Harriet - or the British equivalent of the same. In turn, everything basically does not come out as planned. Each person's life ends up more twisted and F%$#ed (an often used term in the book) up than anyone could or did envision.
But, resounding above the great characteratures of these people is the dialogue. Rich and diverse. Jamaican patois of Hortense Bowden (grandmother to Irie) and her daughter Clara contrast beautifully to Archie's middle class simplicity and the Bengali wit of Samad and Samad's wife, Alana. Mixing the Bengali dialect of Samad and his often stilted use of the English language with the British bred good-for-nothing son, Millar, and Bengal-raised Magi. Samad kidnaps Maid as a preteen and sends him to Bengal to prohibit him from being polluted by western weaknesses (as well as his pimping brother) and bestow upon him the fundamental and righteous Muslim ways, Samad's experiment fails. He learns, "No one is more British than the Indians. And, no one is more Indian and the British."
It is another experiment which is the focus of the last half of the book. Joshua, whose parents would make any teenager cringe, have a father making the super mouse called "Future mouse" - something perhaps greater than Mickey Mouse. Plugged with scientific engineering, the mouse has a life span of ten years, unheard of for rodents. Touching upon God's work infuriates many: Clara's JW mother Hortense, the Muslims of Millar (Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (or KEVIN)), the Muslim Samad, and hippies Joely and Crispin (Eco-terrorist-like radicals). Their respective reactions are not as funny as one may desire.
The beginning and end of the book deliver a mixture of humor not dissimilar to the characters - instead of mixing black with white, the beginning and end mix macabre with humor. Death, to this reader, is not a topic of humor. My prejudice welcomes such attempts as heartily as a comedy about the holocaust. But, at times it can work. "Springtime for Hitler" and the "Producers, The" succeeded, and so does this novel.
In between the bizarre story lies great introspective observation by the author. With witticisms that even Archie's and Samad's bartender could not bestow, she describes many of the characters' actions in a hip-but-insightful manner. These "extras" made the novel much more than a story told by a narrator. These additions made the book a novel of merit - something which many other reviewers have agreed exists.
If you can leap past personal prejudices - something I had to do - and allow the book to proceed, you will be pleased to have made the effort....more info
- Many generations
I started this book not thinking I would like it. Not sure why, but maybe because friends didn't seem thrilled. Maybe because reviews were mixed. But in the end I enjoyed it quite a bit. At points it had a rather Salman Rushdie feel, but there was less fantasy and more realism involved. I found the dilemmas characters faced to be quite pertinent in today's world of melting pots and mixed identities. This story follows numerous generations of three families through their formative experiences, focusing on the youngest generation. Through it all Zadie Smith examines how our personas are affected by the past we conceive, the future we envisage, and the present we inhabit. I enjoyed the use of vernacular speech, which I often heard out loud in my head (probably terribly cliched).
A quote I liked: "Mad Mary was looking at him with recognition. Mad Mary had spotted a fellow traveler. She had spotted the madman in him (which is to say, the prophet)..."
- Sometimes wonderful, sometimes self-indulgent: 3+ stars
The beginning of Zadie Smith's debut novel White Teeth is marked by an extraordinary voice: confident, affectionate, satiric, witty. Archibald Jones attempts to kill himself in a car outside a Muslim butchery while pigeons fleeing from the murderous butcher leave streaks of purple excrement across his windshield. Archie's life is spared by the irate butcher because ". . .dying's no easy trick. And suicide can't be put on a list of Things to Do in between cleaning the grill pan and leveling the sofa leg with a brick." This irreverent, comic beginning launches the novel into Archie's life and into that of his best friend Samad Iqbal. Archie, given a new chance at life, marries the much younger Clara, the daughter of a Jamaican Jehovah Witness mother and a passive, emotionally absent father, while Samad, who is always striving to be a good Muslim, enters into an arranged marriage with Alsana, a woman who was not even born while he fought alongside Archie during World War II. Their children - Irie Jones and the twins Millat and Magrid Iqbal - struggle to find their niche in their overwhelming white British surroundings. If Smith had left her novel at that, at exploring the cultural rifts that divide the families and their cultures, this book would have succeeded admirably; however, the author departs from this course to explore a world that contains a snobbishly intellectual English family, genetic engineering, radical Islam, and the end of the world as predicted by the Jehovah Witnesses. While these separate plots often serve as metaphors for the struggle to assimilate, they simply don't do enough to engage the reader. The result is a tedious, wholly unfunny second half. Characterizations that were done so well in the beginning become lost in the noise of the rest, making it difficult to care about what happens to Smith's inventions. Plot turns begin to feel forced, and reactions, unnatural. Most disappointingly, the witty voice of the narrator fades into the background, and is never as strong as it is in the first hundred pages.
The novel owes much to the literary tradition of Victorians such as Dickens and Thackeray, who wrote sweeping novels with comic and/or biting wit. Smith's range is impressive for a first-time novelist, but her skills and literary instincts are not yet honed enough to carry off the sprawl of such a complex concept. Despite this, her descriptions and characterizations are first-rate, even if they get lost among the rest, and her turns of prose can be astonishing.
This is one of those rare instances when I find it difficult to rate a book using the five star system. White Teeth is an ambitious, unconventional novel that ultimately tries to be too much. Readers who want to keep up on literary trends and celebrities will want to read this, since there is much to admire in Smith's work. Five stars for the beginning, three stars for the rest....more info
- Some people will love this book
White Teeth is of a style I like to think of as the Anglo response to Magical Realism in Spanish lit, popularized by Marquez and Allende (arguably originated by Rulfo). The anglo version adds a bit more concrete, more familiar vernacular, a little less fairytale, a little more sass.
Most Smith fans will also enjoy Salman Rushdie. Tom Robbins people might find trying this out worthwhile. There is also a pacing, and a drawing together of plot-lines that should give lovers of ironic mysteries smoother entree into this, more emotive, more pensive style.
Why 2 stars? It ain't my thing. The characters eventually felt like tools she was moving around to generate whatever weirdly cool dramatic moments she could imagine. The power of those moments was lost because the personality of the characters became so transparent. You might say, "of course she has to react that way to him so she can end up with the other guy and the first guy can be with the new girl who is the other guy's cousin...Boom! Irony."
Create a chart of each character's movements around one another in the course of the book and you'll have a very pretty, and self contained design. One that in book form reads like a long pun.
Why not one star? Because she was able, while a little aggressive on the this-is-a-book-about-mixing-cultures tip, she was able to nail some very specific and genuine cultural perspectives and artifacts that kept the book in my hand all the way to its deflating last chapter, which I just finished, and am still perplexed by the choices....more info
- i can't believe she was 23
when she wrote this. amazing. that's all i have to say....more info
- Movie To Book
After seeing the PBS movie for "White Teeth" I absolutely had to find the author of the book and buy it. How such a story could come about with irony and humor galore was enough to spark my interests and find this book to have and read....more info
- Terrific characters and use of language
Smith's use of language was amazing. I loved every descriptive passage of this book. I need to re-read it with a notepad to capture the new vocabulary words that I just gleaned from context on my first read-through.
The characters in this book are terrific. I was infuriated with Ahmad for his self-righteous religious-ness. He was so real to me that I couldn't stop thinking about him. Joyce Chalfen was the over-achieving new millenium mom, and every scene featuring her was a terrifyingly humorous portrait of the damage a driven woman can do in pursuit of enlightened motherhood. Hortense Bowden was another rich character, full of her own set of religious beliefs that she followed in spite of common sense. These characters were diverse in their lifestyles and opinions, and all of them blindly followed a personal code that led them to do damage to others in the name of their personal beliefs.
- Amusing insight into a troubling time
After the bombings in London were revealed to have allegedly been committed by suburban youth, I felt that I understood the situation better and in more depth because I had read Ms. Smith's tour de force of a debut novel. Witty and entertaining, albeit a little loose and perhaps in need of one more edit, WHITE TEETH reminded me of a Victorian novel with a touch of Tom Robbins thrown in: myriad, seemingly disparate threads come together all tied up in a nice, neat bow at the end. Clever language and interesting characters are icing on the cake....more info
- Interesting book.....but a little rushed.
I applaud Smith's writing syle, as it is original, raw, witty, and fresh. However,simpler words could have been used in place of bigger ones to fit in with its respective context. The first half of the book was quite boring, whereas the second half picked up, then went down again. The characters in their teenage and early adult lives were interesting and funny.If Smith had kept to this detail more than going back into Archie and Samad's old days, the book would have probably been better. I also did not find the end of the story very strong. Some parts were just going on and on forever, hence becoming too predictable the next time around. For example, Samad's character was very real, but one knows he is never going to change his fixed mind, how he cannot fathom the concept of his children growing up in North London, being uber religious to the point that he turns to hypocracy by cheating on his wife, drinking, etc. Furthermore, Alsana's character, again very real, does not change. On balance though, this is what Smith most likely observed in her youth and decided to write about it in a journal (this is the impression I get)but there is a distinction between writing journals and novels. I think this needed a bit more work in the editing department. As someone mentioned in these reviews ("Did Smith have an eraser"?- are my sentiments exactly). Given the fact that she was only 23 when she wrote this novel, as stated above, I do applaud her, since this is her first novel. She wrote very well, but some of the basic stuff like whatever+ whichever= answer( I cannot remember the example) was unnecessary, it did not fit the context in order to make the paragraph/chapter fresh. Ironically, when Smith wrote in simple prose, it was fresh in its execution. She has wit and humour and I hope her new books are more consistent. I just found myself getting bored and putting the book down from time to time....more info
- So Dark. So Beautiful.
Zadie Smith has filled WHITE TEETH with cultural tension that drips from every relationship. Samad worries that his sons are being corrupted like all the other children in England. Alsana does not ever want to go back to India because she feels her family is safe in England. But Samad would not agree that "safe" is as clear as Alsana thinks it is. The minds, traditions, rituals, and morality of his sons are being eroded and destroyed. His sons are not safe. To him, Alsana is only "thankful [they] are in England . . . because [she] has swallowed it whole," believing the lie of safety that promises physical security while your cultural foundation is eaten away beneath you.
The question is, like Archie asks Samad on multiple occasions, "What kind of a world do [you] want your children to grow up in?" It is ironic that, much the same way Alsana is blinded by the actual world in which she lives, Samad believes that the world that is corrupting the morality of his sons is England itself. What he fails to recognize is that his moral failures - his affair with his son's teacher, his personal failure with what Poppy Burt-Jones calls his "incredible act of self-control," . . . his "sense of sacrifice," . . . and his abstinence and self-restraint - are the real source of his sons' moral failings.
The difference is that Alsana is not worried about the truth within herself or the people she loves. She is more concerned with, as she tells Neena, "the truth that can be lived with." She is tired of the tangled roots of their past and wants to struggle with today's problems, not worrying about or regretting over what lies in their yesterdays. She wants Samad to do the same, to remove his leg from out of the past and root it firmly in the present. What she fails to realize is what areas of Samad's have made the adjustment. His cultural roots may still lie with India, but much of his emotion and mental fantasy has grounded itself in his English present.
All of this familial frustration happens within an England that is struggling with the same interracial problems as their family. The country's battle between their nostalgic whitewashed past and their multi-ethnic present and future is at the center of the novel as well, not just in London but in its former colonies that are still trying to find their post-colonial identities.
Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens...more info
- a little boring.
I bought this book solely on a review in Time magazine and expected to be blown away by the talent emanating from Ms. Smith. However, after forcing myself to read at least half of it, I find myself dragging my feet to finish the other half. It is simply not compelling. Perhaps it is a bigger hit in London but I don't understand why everyone is falling all over themselves about this book!...more info
- An excellent glimpse into culture and ones search to find belonging in the world
The first thing I must praise is Zadie Smiths EXCELLENT writing style. She is truly masterful in her descriptions and she makes the characters, with all their hopes, flaws, and passions come alive. The writing is so beautiful that even if you are reading a part that isn't particularly entertaining, the writing is enough to keep you turning the pages until you get to a part in the story line you really enjoy. There are many quotes or paragraphs in this book that just ring out as true lessons about life. I loved it!
The book, as a whole, offers us a great glimpse into London and the various cultures to be found there and their efforts to maintain or find their identity in a foreign land. By cultures I mean beyond race to religion as well as age and each character's efforts to find meaning, love, and passion in their lives, whether that means dwelling on the past or joining a fundamentalist islamic group. Each character's search for their place and their identity is beautiful. You find yourself cheering them on and feeling their pain when they make a wrong decision or their dreams don't turn out the way a fairy book story should. I felt that Zadie Smith was presenting me with LIFE AS IT IS in a beautifully wrapped package full of great prose and heart touching stories.
Although I cannot say enough about how much I loved Zadie Smith's writing, it did feel at times that she went on tangents that didn't seem central to the story. However, these tangents were interesting but I found myself getting frustrated as I neared the end of the story and so much was left unresolved that so much room was spent on these tangents. Further, as you read, you may find yourself frustrated as Smith transitions from character to character with much unresolved and unsaid about the character you just read about. I found myself saying, "Wait! I want to know more about what happens here!" In the end, however, Smith masterfully ties all the characters and their story lines together in a blockbuster ending that keeps you turning the pages hoping it doesn't end where it does.
In all, it is an excellent book that makes you think about life, identity, love, and passion. ...more info
- Does Zadie Smith Own an Eraser?
If you're familiar with the film "Wonderboys," you may remember the giant opus and monument to post-modern self indulgence that once successful novelist Grady Tripp had been working on for years. It was a book that took on an unfocused life of it's own, growing like untended weeds to the extent of including complete genealogical charts of a families horses and fattening itself to an unmanageable weight before finally blowing away in a harbor wind. "White Teeth" could very well have been that novel.
First time novelist Zadie Smith is nothing if not ambitious, as "White Teeth" is the type of book where you will come to dread the simple act of a man walking into a grocery store to buy some chips. In the following pages it's quite possible you will be bludgeoned with the history of the currency the customer produces, the unseemly hygenic habits of the cashier, or the love life of the architect who designed the building. If a child so much as glances at a cathedral you can be sure that a complete hagiography will soon follow. Ultimately this type of exhaustive information succeeds only in quelling the natural momentum the story might have gathered under the knife of a more scrupulous self-editor. As it is, "White Teeth" stands as one of the least intimate books I've read, at times being more of a pyrotechnic display of Smith's obsession with her own cleverness than an actual story of believable flesh and blood characters. I'm assuming that with the advance she apparently recieved, editors were too cowed to actually change anything, and the book's the worse for it.
Although "White Teeth" is ultimately frustrating, and in my opinion quite overrated, at times Smith does write beautiful prose (the dialogue is another matter) and it makes you wonder how good this book could have been had she written it when she was a little older, didn't have quite so much time on her hands, and tired of constantly reaching for strange "teeth" analogies.
- Supreme enjoyment. . .and you'll learn something too!!
Zadie Smith is one of the most talented new authors out there. I enjoyed her debut novel so much that I read the second half of it very slowly, so as to savor the uncanny occurrences and outrageously funny scenarios for as long as I could. White Teeth gave me a better history lesson on places like Jamaica, Pakistan, and England than any world history class I'd ever taken. But the seed of this novel is just the plain insanity of human nature. You won't be able to control the laughter that will explode from you, and when you least expect it.
Get your own copy and don't lend it to anyone. . .you may never get it back....more info
- Loser Gets Second Chance
I'm not a fan of books where losers get second chances at life. Had her protagonist succeeded, we all would have had better things to do with our time.
Smith can write, but her subject leaves me cold. Would she had left him colder....more info
- ho hum
She writes so beautifully, but I found this book boring enough to just quit, which is unusual for me. She has great, graet potential & I sincerely hope that she will come up with a true masterpiece soon....more info
- Life Changing Fiction
This book is by far the best example of modern fiction out there. I avoid 99.9% of books written after 1980, but this is a rare gem.
I have read all of her other books and enjoyed them as well....more info
- White Teeth are sharp and beautiful!
Archie Jones and the rest of the crazy cast of this madcap novel are REAL, which is to say so idiosyncratic, so weird, so messed up, that it sometimes seems impossible that they were imagined by any writer, much less a writer still young enough to be in college. True, that college happened to be Oxford, and that writer happened to be (become?) Zadie Smith, brilliant, wunderkind, lovely. The sheer scope of this novel, its breadth, its ambition, takes us from the undignified battlefront of WWII reminiscent of Catch-22, to a revolution in Bangladesh, to the grimy, rough and tough streets of working class London in the Seventies like something in the backgound of a music video for The Clash, to the present... and beyond, to that rare place: literary transcendence. Smith accomplishes all that with a disarming confidence and grace; she seems all-knowing and all-powerful where her characters are blind and clumsy; it is this potent mix, the beauty drawn out of the ugly, the brutality of life distilled into haunting, melodic, and ultimately warming prose, that will leave Smith's reader intoxicated by her genius.
White Teeth is not perfect, and the ending is lacking the confidence of the other parts, but it is so brilliant most of the way that when you come to an imperfection your eyes are blinded enough so as not to notice. It is, in the end, a perfect reading experience, one I'd gladly dive into again....more info
- Too long
A much condensed version would have helped but still would not have been a good story. The end was a disappointment and the middle laborious....more info
- Very good read, but some character concerns
First off, I've read this book 2X and have enjoyed it both times, however, on the 2nd time through, I couldn't shake the fact that the only white family in the book are overly-intellectual, bigoted, sappy, smarmy love-themselvers. And thoroughly unrealistic. The novel ,which up to the introduction of the Chalfens was rich and realistic and very, very funny, took a downward turn that it barely recovered from due to the ridiculousness of the Chalfen-clan. I am obviously recommending this book, and Zadie Smith IS an extraordinary writer, but I feel that in order to demonstrate one of the book's main purposes of alienation and the search/struggle for a personal and national identity, she unnecessarily, perhaps inadvertantly, streamlined middle-class whites into a forged stereotype. Which is a shame, as the rest of the novel is quite textured and even at times intimate....more info
- I liked the humor, but my chuckling soon turned to tedium.
Zadie Smith, the North London author of this big and ambitious novel was just 25 years old in 2000 when it was published. From her photograph, she is multicultural herself, and this modern-day multiculturalism is the glue that holds the book today. It is also quite humorous and I definitely found myself chuckling throughout. But as I got deeper and deeper into the book, my chuckling turned to tedium and I found it hard to get through its 448 pages.
The characters are interesting and unique and the timeline spans several generations. Mild-mannered Brit, Archie, and his Bangladeshi friend, Samad, meet during WW2 when they are both in the army. They remain friends throughout the years. Later, in middle age Archie marries Clara, a young dark skinned Jamaican woman who was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. Samad takes a young bride from his own country who he doesn't meet till the wedding day. The two couples become friends. Through the years, children are born and this novel encompasses these children's stories as well. Samad and his wife have twin boys, but one is sent back to Bangladesh for an education and the other is raised in North London. Archie and Clara have a daughter who falls in love with one of the boys. But then there is another family the three children are drawn to. The Jewish husband is a scientist who experiments with changing the genetics of mice; his English wife adores him. They have four children, and they seem to have a perfect life. But as we get deeper and deeper in the book, we are forced to look at every single little detail of contradiction in each one of these characters' very human stories. The plot gets more and more complicated and the conclusion is perfect as all the elements of the story are drawn together.
And yet, even though I applaud the author's talent and love the fact that she has taken the risk of dealing with rather uncharted territory, I soon tired of the book. Therefore, even though I consider the book worthwhile, I can give it no more than a mild recommendation.
- Embrace your Inner Outcast
Ever feel like something about you just doesn't quite fit in to the bigger picture of life that surrounds you? If so, pick up Zadie Smith's wonderful novel "White Teeth". Every single main character in the book is a well developed study of an inward focused outcast. The way the author strings these warped pearls of dysfunction into a funny, absorbing tale of life is laudable.
The outrageous beginnings of each character's plot line makes funneling these larger than life takes into the humdrum of everyday existence compelling and humorous. For example, the four main families woven together by the plot lines begin with: 1) a miraculous birth in a church during an earthquake in Jamaica, 2) a Bangladeshi martyr who heroically accomplished nothing, 3) a family of middle-class mad scientists who relate all of life's problems to gardening or genetics, and 4) a simple Englishman whose greatest moment in life was a wartime decision whether or not to shoot a French Nazi doctor crying tears of blood.
How can you expect to mash together characters that large into a simple story of work, school, and family without some kind of fireworks? Everyone in the novel considers themselves an outcast in some way, and then nurses that feeling like a grudge until the conclusion. The end of the book comes a little abruptly, but after some reflection I think the ending was as good as could be hoped.
There is some very funny writing in this book, but that's basically a bonus. The characters are well developed, with their self-doubt and unfulfilled dreams stretching across the second half of the 20th century. This isn't a perfect book, the plot has a few dead ends and there are some inconsistencies in the early going, but don't let that distract you from the fact that this is a unique reading experience, and not to be missed.
- White Teeth is a brilliant debut by Zadie Smith
Brilliant: Zadie Smith and White Teeth, alike, yet differently.One of the most hypnotizing narratives I have read in a long time. The writing is perfect, the story-telling simply brilliant. A definite must read....more info
- Big screaming jazzy rag bag
I began reading 'White Teeth' in my local library and was swept up instantly by the vibrant, humane and hugely comic opening. Archie Jones's thwarted suicide attempt on the Cricklewood Broadway must rank as one of the funniest openings in novel history. From then on, White Teeth expands in a great number of directions, not all of them successful. On the plus side, Zadie Smith's youthful intelligence, wit, and bubbling insight into multicultural London gives rise to a number of hillarious comic riffs on the nature of family, love, adolescence and identity. The three families that feature in the story - the Iqbals, the Jones' and the Chalfens together encapsulate great swathes of British family life. Her characters are boistrous, funny, and totally humane (no tired, postmodern cynicism here) and the dialogue is, at times, top notch, capturing the educated tones of the middle classes as well as the polyglot jabber atop the number 42 bus. There are a number of great set pieces too, delivered with the aplom of Martin Amis in novels such as 'Money' and 'London Fields'. I found the afro hair salon and the scenes in O'Connells Pool House (neither Irish, nor a pool house) especially memorable. Zadie Smith stamped her mark as a great comic satirist with this novel, and justly so.
On the downside, the whole scape came across as rather cartoonish. This is to be excused in such a young writer (Smith acknowledged this, and her writing has indeed matured, witness her Orange Prize winning effort, 'On Beauty'). An Islamic terrorist organisation with the anacroynm KEVIN comes across as goofily funny, with no real depth, and says little about the state of modern Islamism (though to be fair, White Teeth was pre September 11). Characters are Dickensian in the extreme. Everyone has a peculiarity, a funky walk, a verbal tic, a pustule here, a missing set of teeth there. The cast of White Teeth come across like actors in a zany caper film that resemble comic stereotypes rather than fully rounded characters. Ethnicity is a strong theme that is covered with great depth and insight, except in one area. What are the motivations of the white characters (such as music teacher Poppy Burt Jones) who enter the novel, fall in love with a main, Muslim character, then exit stage left as soon as structurally convenient? White Teeth may be the first novel that can be accused of having token white characters, rather than token ethnic ones.
In addition, the book strains for intellectual depth that it doesn't quite carry off. Themes of cross cultural influence, the status of the immigrant and genetic modification are hugely expansive, and Smith doesn't capture them with as much style and panoramic vision as one of her great influences, Salman Rushdie, in novels such as 'Midnight's Children', and 'The Satanic Verses'.
Still, all minor quibbles, and ones that will be ironed out as Smith develops as a writer. All in all, a hugely entertaining read. Zadie Smith is a powerhouse author who has pulled off the rare and enviable trick of writing novels that accomplish both literary merit and blockbuster sales, and White Teeth will surely last for many years as her memorable fictional debut to kick off the new Millennium. ...more info
- Entertaining and clever
Given the amount of hype when this novel came out, it was never going to live up to all of it... however, it comes close!
It's a bold novel with a highly creative storyline which darts back & forth over a period of 50 years. The characters are all exaggerations or parodies, which is absolutely essential to the daring style of the book. Reading previous reviews, I seem to be in the minority of preferring the 2nd half of the book, which I finished far more quickly than the 1st. I think this is due to the characters being more fully developed, allowing me to more enjoy the zany style of writing.
Smith is clearly extremely intelligent & talented, however this is the source of my main criticism. The writing does feel extremely self-conscious, as if she's trying to produce a virtuoso showpiece rather than letting the work speak for itself. The desire to continually go off on tangents to demonstrate her knowledge of the English language, history, and science is ultimately at the expense of the prose (maybe she's read too many Salman Rushdie novels!). I also don't think the whole "teeth" thing really works and seems to have been woven in just for the title!
Those criticisms aside, it is an excellent read and I look forward to reading more of her works....more info
- Great debut novel
When this book came out back in 2000 to widespread acclaim, I made up mind not read it. It seemed like the usual hoary, pretentious crap that most critics like to lap up with vigor. Recently, however, I've become very interested in South Asian literature, and a great many of my friends and sources on the Web were touting 'White Teeth''s Bangladeshi characters as being very well drawn out. So, I decided to get the audio book. If the book sucked, at least it would still keep me engaged in something while I was driving around.
The beginnining of the book is very slow, and goes on for a while about Archie, one of the two main characters. Just as I was losing hope, the Bangladeshi character, Samad appeared. After that, it was off to the races. Smith has the gift of making somewhat unlikable characters into ones the reader completely sympathizes with and cares about. Samad hates the fact he's in England, is a hypocritical pious man, and very rude and short with his family. Yet, I kept wanting to see what would happen next. To me, that is the mark of a truly good book.
The rest of the characters were also very well drawn, and Smith showed the trials and travails they experience as they all grow up in the 80's and 90's. She also has a subtle wit that made me laugh out loud once or twice, but often just left me smiling as I read. The only complaint I had was that the ending scene was a bit abrupt. I would have liked a neater resolution, but this is a small quibble....more info
I was greatly disappointed by this book. While the initial premise is promising and the first third of the book is excellent [hence the two stars], Smith throws it all away through consistently poor dialogue, increasingly unconvincing characters and a blatantly `manufactured' storyline. I ended up skim reading the last two thirds of 'White Teeth' and don't think that I got my money's worth.
Aside from the poor storyline and dismal dialogue, one of the aspects of this book that really stuck in my throat was the poor quality of much of Smith's background research. As an example, throughout the book one of the characters is obsessed with the role his ancestor played in sparking the Indian Mutiny. However, despite the sequence of events being repeatedly referred to, Smith gets some basic facts wrong, including miss-naming the British officers involved. An even more basic mistake is that at one point it is stated that Jamaica is so small that you can walk around it in a day(!). Seeing as Smith was a student at Oxford University at the time she wrote 'White Teeth' such basic mistakes are inexcusable and are an indication that she embarked on her first novel well before she should have.