WHITE TEETH by ZADIE SMITH

April 16, 2017 at 11:52 am Leave a comment

White_Teeth_Tube_Map White Teeth by jamaican-english writer Zadie Smith won the orange prize for fiction and a bunch of other awards.

All Bookgroupers enjoyed this book which is very rare. Usually there are are at least some dissenting views. Sometimes the dissenting view is me but in this case I agree. I found this to be wonderful in many many ways.

Perhaps its most obvious virtue is that it’s an evocation of the rainbow society of modern London, circa the 1990s anyway. It was a terrific history of how that society came to be, including its connections to empire; a particularly persuasive history as it comes from someone inside that society – the author being a Londoner from a Jamaican family. Getting this insiders view of that society, rather than an outsiders perspective of how they thought it was, made it much more enjoyable.

Where I come from,’ said Archie, ‘a bloke likes to get to know a girl before he marries her.’
‘Where you come from it is customary to boil vegetables until they fall apart. This does not mean,’ said Samad tersely, ‘that it is a good idea.’

Even better though was that it managed to be funny and entertaining at the same time, so it wasn’t just an appeal to the readers conscience about racism and multiculturalism.

Lacking any name for the furtive rumblings that appeared in her lower abdomen on these occasions, Clara called it the spirit of the Lord.

In addition to all that it is a novel on a grand scale it multiple levels. At the level of plot it is an epic story spanning multiple generations of multiple families spread through many big moments in history including Indian independence, the end of WW@ and the fall of the Berlin wall.

At the level of ideas, it combines this geopolitical history with the personal and family history of the characters to illustrate how things work and why they work the way they do.

If religion is the opium of the people, tradition is an even more sinister analgesic, simply because it rarely appears sinister. If religion is a tight band, a throbbing vein and a needle, tradition is a far homelier concoction: poppy seeds ground into tea; a sweet cocoa drink laced with cocaine; the kind of thing your grandmother might have made

Despite all these many virtues the strongest feature of the book may be at the level of its characters. They are interesting, funny, believable, frustrating, realistic and romantic. A Jamaican Jehovah Witness mum, an adulterous pious muslim Bangladeshi dad, genius children and London wannabe teen rapper gangsta boys. All brought to the page with real spirit and love, and enough attention to detail that makes them completely believable despite their oddity.

She was that age. Whatever she said burst like genius into centuries of silence. Whatever she touched was the first stroke of its kind. Whatever she believed was not formed by faith but carved from certainty. Whatever she thought was the first time such a thought had ever been thunk.

Highly recommended

 

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