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White Teeth: A Novel

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. Zadie Smith's dazzling debut caught critics grasping for comparisons and deciding on everyone from Charles Dickens to Salman Rushdie to John Irving and Martin Amis. But the truth is that Zadie Smith's...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings


It is impressive enough, let's be honest, that a 24-year-old can have the maturity and diligence to complete a novel of any sort. But to complete one that is deep on so many levels, so funny, so pertinent to how we live today, balances so many different plotlines without ever losing control of any of them, speaks in so many different voices (from a conflicted Bengali Muslim to a hardcore animal rights activist to a 85-year-old Jehovah's Witness, and many others in between) without ever sounding less than authentic, is so rare that one almost considers it a miracle. Forget all those, "all white people are bad, everyone else is good" multiculturalism books they made you read in college that were universally lame. This is by far the most pertinent book about mutliculturalism that I've ever read, because it is based on real life as it is currently lived, not on guilt for the sins of our ancestors. It is about the difficulty in staying true to ones roots, but at the same time being a part of the present and future. This novel goes so much deeper than that though, because ultimately, it is not just about culture as a whole, but about the individual. About the desperate need of the individual to feel that his or her existence is important. I hope I'm not making this book sound too serious. Zadie Smith has an incredibly hilarious writing style, that keeps you laughing and smiling even as the more important messages of the novel seep into your mind. This novel isn't perfect (what is?), some characters that we come to care about early in the book fade into secondary characters a bit too quickly (Clara, for example) and some of the novels morals are not quite as subtle as the author probably intends. Still, this novel is so good I can't bring myself to give is anything less than five stars. Not to get too strung up in hyperbole, but reading a novel like this, by such a young writer who one hopes will only get better with time, makes one feel more comfortable about the future of literature.

My New Favorite Novel

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I have to tell everyone I know about, one that immediately pops into my head when someone asks "Have you read anything good lately?" White Teeth is such a novel. What an enjoyable, hilarious and exuberantly written work this is. Zadie Smith is a very talented writer and I only hope that she gives us more, quickly. The book opens with Archie Jones' failed attempt at suicide in London in 1975. This sounds serious, but Smith handles it with such wit and aplomb that the scene is hilarious. We follow Archie, his friend, Samad Iqbal as they marry, have children and watch their children grow up in a London they just don't understand. The characters are hilarious. Archie is completely clueless, but that doesn't bother him. Samad is a frustrated intellectual stuck being a waiter, trying desperately to validate an act of bravery of one of his ancestors. Their children come of age in the cultural and ethnic melting pot that is modern London. Smith's characters are all wonderfully unique and terrifically funny. I highly, highly recommend this book. It lives up to, and surpasses, any of the hype you may have heard.

Somewhat envious of her talent!

How did she do it? She's only 25, and was several years younger when she started writing it. So much is packed into it and it is driven forward by energetic, humourous, optimistic writing. It is tempting to say that Zadie Smith has managed to pick up the part of London she lives in and drop it neatly into a book, along with history, science, religion, and the colonial roots of the wonderful array of characters. I'm sure if I'd been sitting having a chat with Zadie a few years ago and she had told me what she intended to write I would have nodded interestedly and said 'mmmm....brilliant idea...ermmm... bit too ambitious though maybe, don't you think....what about just concentratiing on this idea.. or this idea.. or...'. On the other hand, I don't know her from Adam, and if she demonstrated the passion of ambition that is evident in the book, then I would probably just nod and say, 'well.... you just go ahead.. we'll just keep to our little ideas... and take life one theme at a time... but you just go ahead and whack it all in there!' Obviously it is not perfect. To be really picky, at times she overwrites, she gets carried away by the flow of the narrative and slips in words and phrases that could have been smoothed off. She grapples with big themes and shows a deep understanding of them, but at times throws in distracting humour which holds us back from a greater engagement with these issues. Not that I want to criticize her use of humour. It is wonderful to read a serious novel which also entertains. There is so much humour in life alongside the tragedies, the racism and the poverty, and it is brilliantly captured here. There is a wonderful balance between positive and negative in the novel. It is the author's energy which holds this all together. How can she have such a strong, seemingly-positive outlook at the age of 25 when she has also faced and grappled with the darker issues of our times? Very rarely do I read a book twice, and certainly not within the space of six months, but I am now reading 'White Teeth' for the second time and enjoying it even more than the first time around. Maybe I will have to keep reading it until her next novel is published! For potential readers in the from outside the London-area who may be concerned that it might be rather parochial, about a small part of London, full of that odd English humour and so on, I have to say 'FEAR NOT'. Although the characters of the novel are all products of London's own brand of multiculturalism, their ways of thinking, their emotions, and the problems which they encounter have a universalism which is likely to make White Teeth a success in all parts of the globe. It is wonderful in a way to hear that the author was not satisfied with this novel. She thinks it has many weaknesses. By heck, we better watch out if she writes a novel she is remotely satisfied with!

Monstropolous Ingenuity!

This is a first class debut novel, which has made the news due to the huge advance, which the author received - a six-figure number. So, the question seems to be: is White Teeth worth all that money? The answer has to be YES. White Teeth is a brilliant novel, superbly confident in its execution. It starts off in 1975, the year of the author's birth, with the attempted suicide of Archibald Jones. Anyone who was born in 1970s Britain cannot fail but identify with the characters and events in this book. If you can recall the VW badge craze, then this is the book for you. However, this is not just a novel for the younger generation, for there is at least one extended family in White Teeth, each member of which is brought vividly to life. There's Archibald Jones and Samed Iqbal, who first meet in a British tank in 1945, and who then meet up again thirty years later to start the families featured within White Teeth. There's the brilliant and comic portrayal of the aged Hortense Bowden, an avid Jehovah's Witness, who keeps waiting for the end of the world. Zadie Smith's novel has been described as Dickensenian, but I think there's a touch of Thackeray in there too. The author mocks her characters, and parodies them, but she also has a lot of compassion for them. No one, in the world of White Teeth, is beyond redemption. Zadie Smith's characters are truly vibrant. Take Samed Iqbal and his troubles with 'slapping the salami'. As a reader, you begin to wonder how Zadie Smith has such insight into the male mind and universe, because it rings so true. For anyone embarking on a Cultural Studies course, this novel is a must. Throw away your textbooks with their dry statistics! One of White Teeth's main themes is the mix of cultures in North London, from the Bengali Iqbals, to the archetypal Englishman Archie Jones, to the half-Jamaican Bowdens, and a slight smattering of the Irish. The novel maps these characters as they try to live out their years in a world which is losing religion and tradition. Samed kidnaps one of his sons to be brought up as a proper Bengali back home, while his other son, Millat, flirts with girls and joins the fundamentalist Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (KEVIN - they've got an acronym problem). History and fate are intermingled in this novel. Hortense Bowden's apocalyptic vision of the future is indivisibly linked to the aftershocks of her birth. Samed can't stop boring people with tales of his illustrious ancestor, the rebellious Mangal Pande. Irie Jones seeks to visit her family's home of Jamaica. And Joyce Chalfen sees genius in each Chalfen portrait, whilst Joshua Chalfen literally joins up with FATE. Archie Jones, who leaves most decisions to the flick of a coin, also finds that History has a nasty shock in store for him. However, the future's present here also, with Marcus Chalfen's work on genetics forming a pivotal part of the plot. Like BBC TV's 'Our Friends in the

White Teeth Mentions in Our Blog

White Teeth in The Great American Read: All 100 Best-Loved Novels!
The Great American Read: All 100 Best-Loved Novels!
Published by Beth Clark • August 31, 2018

The Great American Read is a PBS series that explores and celebrates the power of reading as the core of an ambitious digital, educational, and community outreach campaign designed to get the country reading and passionately talking about books. One hundred books, to be exact, so happy reading!

White Teeth in The Great American Read on PBS
The Great American Read on PBS
Published by Beth Clark • August 24, 2018
The Great American Read is a PBS series that explores and celebrates the power of reading as the core of an ambitious digital, educational, and community outreach campaign designed to get the country reading and passionately talking about books. One hundred books, to be exact, so here are books 81–100 on the list!
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