White Teeth (Vintage International)
Author: Zadie Smith
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DescriptionEpic in scale and intimate in approach, White Teeth is an ambitious novel. Genetics, eugenics, gender, race, class and history are the book's themes but Zadie Smith is gifted with the wit and inventiveness to make these weighty ideas seem effortlessly light.
The story travels through Jamaica, Turkey, Bangladesh and India but ends up in a scrubby North London borough, home of the book's two unlikely heroes: prevaricating Archie Jones and intemperate Samad Iqbal. They met in the Second World War, as part of a "Buggered Battalion" and have been best friends ever since. Archie marries beautiful, buck-toothed Clara, who's on the run from her Jehovah's Witness mother, and they have a daughter, Irie. Samad marries stroppy Alsana and they have twin sons: "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. A simple scene, Alsana and Clara chatting about their pregnancies in the park: "A woman has to have the private things--a husband needn't be involved in body business, in a lady's ... parts."
Samad's rant about his sons--"They have both lost their way. 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--acutely displays "the immigrant fears--dissolution, disappearance" but it also gets to the very heart of Samad.
White Teeth is a joy to read. It teems with life and exuberence and has enough cleverness and irreverent seriousness to give it bite. --Eithne Farry