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White Teeth: A Novel Paperback – June 12, 2001
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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 voice is remarkably, fluently, and altogether wonderfully her own.
At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith.
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“Brilliant…. Smith is a master at detail…a postmodern Charles Dickens…[Smith's] rich storytelling and wicked wit are suited to the sights and smells of the world that England has inherited.”–The Washington Post
“[A] vibrant, rollicking first novel about race and idenity…[Smith's] prickly wit is affectionate and poignant.”–People
“[A] dazzling intergenerational first novel…wonderfully inventive…playful yet unaffected, mongrel yet cohesive, profound yet funny, vernacular yet lyrical. ”–Los Angeles Times
“[A] marvel of a debut novel. . .Reminscent of both Salman Rushdie and John Irving, White Teeth is a comic, canny, sprawling tale, adeptly held together by Smith's literary sleight of hand.”–Entertainment Weekly
“A magnificent and audacious novel, jampacked with memorable characters and challenging ideas.”–The Atlanta Journal & Constitution
"Ambitious, earnest and irreverent. . . Smith has a real talent for comedy and a fond eye for human foibles."–The Wall Street Journal
“Wonderful…. Zadie Smith…possesses a more than ordinary share of talent.”–USA Today
"Smith has an astonishing intellect. She writes sharp dialogue for every age and race— and she's funny as hell.”–Newsweek
“[White Teeth] is, like the London it portrays, a restless hybrid of voices, tones, and textures…with a raucous energy and confidence.”–The New York Times Book Review
"Fresh…spirited…this extravagant novel bursts with optimism about people, about language, and perhaps, above all, about novels and the joy, indeed the impertinence, of writing one.”–The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Blissfully confident, wide-ranging and funny from the get-go, White Teeth…promises–and delivers–a wildly inventive journey into a fresh imagination.”–Rocky Mountain News
“Brilliant…. Smith is a master at detail…. Like a postmodern Dickens, she has a flair for features, dress, dialogue, accents and human frailty.”–The Miami Herald
“It’s a treat to watch an immensely gifted young writer performing, for the very first time, such an admirably audacious and ambitious juggling act.”–Elle
“Absolutely delicious…. Smith’s voice is a perfect balance of tragedy and comedy.”–The Tampa Tribune and Times
“Gently observant and generous in its judgments…. Filled with vibrant life.”–The San Diego Union—Tribune
“Brilliant…. Bubbles and pops in its imaginative intensity.”–The Baltimore Sun
From the Inside Flap
At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England?s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn?t quite match her name (Jamaican for ?no problem?). Samad?s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal?s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith. Set against London?s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.
- Publisher : Vintage (June 12, 2001)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 464 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0375703861
- ISBN-13 : 978-0375703867
- Lexile measure : 960L
- Item Weight : 12.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.15 x 0.95 x 7.98 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #31,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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That said, I personally found this a little overwritten for a novel. It is a novel but written in the editorial style of an essay. And while that style is initially humorous and engaging- as though you’re having a one-sided conversation with the author about the plot, after a while, it becomes a little tiresome and too precious and a little too much of a good thing. Like we don’t need as many explanations of cultural references, we don’t need as much analyses of the minutiae of the character’s behaviors, like sometimes, we, the reader, could have been left to do a little inference by ourselves, left to form our own opinions and ideas about the plot and characters without being talked a little to death around every single issue. So whilst the editorializing and essaying were impeccably done and filled with wit and humor, for a novel, it becomes a little tedious and makes the book drag more than necessary. This is my primary issue with this book.
My secondary issue is that I didn’t really begin to enjoy or relate with the book till the 2nd half of it when we began to get the story from Irie’s perspective. Throughout the first half of the book, anytime we get the perspective of the female characters who are entrenched in reality, the book really shines. Unfortunately, much of the first half of the book is mired in the particularly unengaging main characters of Samad and Archie and their insignificant, quixotic adventures. As for the ending, for a book that was written with so much analysis and writing, it felt a bit rushed and sudden and abrupt and not as thoroughly plumbed and combed over as the rest of the book.
I did like this book and I think its discussions of ethnic identity and nationalism and belonging and assimilation and family and generational disconnects are really important and thought-provoking. It’s an incredibly witty book, I just personally found it a little in need of being pared back.
There’s even a delicious endorsement from Salman Rushdie in the dust jacket
Admittedly a late comer to what is now widely established to be one of the most important books of the last 20 years, I am not going out on much of a limb by saying that White Teeth, the debut novel by a then-25 year old Zadie Smith, is an arresting, original, authentic book.
If you want a plot summary, don’t read this review—google the wiki page—I don’t give good plot descriptions. The reason to read this superb book about growing up an immigrant in England is not the (admittedly interesting) plot, but rather Smith’s superb ability to articulate the commonplace in a transcendent manner, including but not limited to:
• How she describes displacement
• How she deals with history and the white man’s role in it
• How she deals with religion(s)
• How she understands England’s existential angst about a lost empire
• How she presciently (the novel was published in 2000) identifies the coming eruption of Islamic emigres in the west, which caught everyone’s attention (although it certainly didn’t begin) when planes crashed into buildings in New York and Washington DC a year after her book came out and which continues to dominate, arguably to an increasingly greater degree, the media, national politics and international relations from London to Bagdad to Beijing to Delhi, from Washington to Damascus to Moscow to Tehran
The book lurches from European theatre of WWII to an early 19th century earthquake in Jamaica to Islamic extremists protesting science in modern London in search of…a message. That message is probably related to the age-old question of free will versus fate, which we see play out (not for the first time in literature but certainly with a fresh and interesting cast of characters) across several generations of immigrants to England. Smith’s greatest gift is creating engaging, layered characters whose lives you are interested in…but sometimes this is taken too far, like during the improbable convergence of the different families around the issue of Marcus Chalfen’s Future Mouse when Smith needlessly gives heated background on a newly introduced couple Joely and Crispin which prevents the plot’s progression to a less trammeled resolution (which, when it comes, Smith has crafted expertly and with terrific surprise…there’s an easter egg hidden at the end of this book).
There are times where it becomes obvious that this is a first novel and where some editing could have made it much tighter. The authors amazing powers of character development are lost on the Chalfen family, which is wholly unbelievable and reads in many places like a blackboard sketch the author made with the overtly didactic points she wanted to articulate). Smith occasionally spends too much time explaining in detail what characters think and why they think it, rather than letting this precipitate organically from their actions and words.
This is a powerful book and an insightful author—there are strokes of real brilliance. A theme that stuck with me was one of love, summed up by a pair of quotes in the latter part of the book:
“Oh he loves her; just as the English loved India and Africa and Ireland; it is the love that is the problem, people treat their lovers badly.” (p299)
“Greeting cards tell us everyone deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water.” (p382)
Smith is no shrinking violet and White Teeth tears at raw flesh—even more so in 2017.
This is far from a quick read, and even further from a light one. The accents are something to reckon with, and Smith's willingness to jump from character to character does, at times, impede the natural flow of reading. This is not a book you fall into, simply put.
Yet the work is worth it, as the ending insists on intersectionality of its various plots--including a reveal that is one of the most satisfying I've come across (and unexpected). And within it all, the themes are sublime even while subtle, and Smith evinces the prowess that has long since earned her deserved recognition.
It took me far too long to encounter this novel, but I'm nonetheless grateful I did.
Top reviews from other countries
Customers in my usual cafe looking at me strangely for laughing out loud at the antics and comments of the Chalfonts, ik-ball and Archie or the 'niece of shame'. Other times hiding how sad or uncomfortable the tale made me.
Great book, essential reading.