WHITE TEETH – Zadie Smith

WHITE TEETH - Zadie Smith

WHITE TEETH, I have just finished re-reading it and I am astounded by this debut novel from one of my favorite author’s the un-paralleled Zadie Smith (I LOVE ‘The Autograph Man and ‘On Beauty’). WHITE TEETH is a story about three very different families- a half Jamaican, half English clan, a Bengali clan and an English-middle class (Jewish- who-have-renounced-their-faith) intellectual clan spread across three generations, it concerns the dilemmas faced by immigrants when raising their children, watching them become more English than the English and the mysterious ways in which various motif’s come to play. The colonial influence and the desire of the English to preach (teach), the elimination of the random, the great lengths that parents go to control, predict and if they are kinder- influence the path that their children take. But you cannot control… and that is what the story eventually comes down to…

Smith writes with wit and a sharp intellect, with rich back stories and insights into religious fundamentalism that plays out in intertwining tale of twin brothers, one a man of science and the other- well, the other having caught a bad case of religion. It is not… the easiest book in the world to read I should hasten to add. While I shower praise, I should point out that the first time I read it- only a few years ago, I found it boring, complicated and terribly difficult. Smith’s follow up book, ‘The Autograph Man’ dealt with mystical concepts like the kabbalah, but is easier…

WHITE TEETH reminds me of Brick Lane, by Monica Ali- another novel set in present day London that was about immigrants, and it is better for it.

An interesting idea evolved in my mind as I was reaching the end of the novel- the characters had grown older, children had ‘come of age’ and I felt weirdly old by the time I had finished. Children are always in a hurry to do everything. In a hurry to grow up, to run up the stairs, to reach the car, to reach the water in a beach. With age, some of that ‘life’ is gone. Some of that desire ‘to experiment’ is displaced by anxiety, fears and I am aware I should probably say something like ‘maturity’. Yet as I tentatively place my feet on steps rather than running up them two at a time, I am weirdly comforted that books like WHITE TEETH finally make more sense to me.

Anyway… I’m reading Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood now. And next on the list is NW by Zadie Smith.


One comment

  1. Nick Merrill · April 28, 2013

    Nice piece. I love Zadie Smith. Last winter I devoted a lot of time to reading White Teeth that should have been spent studying for finals. The book has such a lively comic voice.

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