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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

White Teeth by Zadie Smith~★★★

Author: Zadie Smith
Title: White Teeth
Release Date: January 27, 2000
Publisher: This edition was published by Random House, Inc. New York; the original was published
by Hamish Hamilton, London
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "On New Year's morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie---working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt---is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie's car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.
Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant, White Teeth is the story of two North London families---one headed by Archie, the other by Archie's best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for 'no problem'). Samad---devoutly Muslim, hopelessly 'foreign'---weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union. They have twin sons named Millat and Magid, one a pot-smoking punk-cum-militant Muslim and the other an insufferable science nerd. The riotous and tortured histories of the Joneses and the Iqbals are fundamentally intertwined, capturing an empire's worth of cultural identity, history, and hope. 
Zadie Smith's dazzling first novel plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant cafe, a liberal public school, a sleek science institute. A winning debut in every respect, White Teeth marks the arrival of a wondrously talented writer who takes on the big themes---faith, race, gender, history, and culture---and triumphs."

Taryn's Review: It's hard to know if one should keep reading a book that isn't grabbing his or her attention. Do you quit the book? I'm always torn on this question because I hate to quit a book for two reasons: 1) I don't want to be a quitter, and 2) I've normally already spent ample time reading the book, and by that point, why not finish the book? The problem with my reasoning is that when I'm not drawn in by a book, I'm painfully slow at reading it. I mean, a few pages a night and I'm all, "Yup, that's enough." I normally end up closing the book shortly after picking it up. However, the optimist in me trudges along nightly because you never know if the book will get better unless you try...right?

This book finally sparked my interest at page 300. Yes, page 300! This is a big book, coming in at 420ish pages. It took me three weeks to lug through 300 pages, yet it only took two nights to read through the last 120 pages. Zadie Smith is a detailed writer and while I'm not normally turned off by such details, I think the setting and time period had a lot to do with my disinterest. I'm not savvy on London culture nor the struggles of change that took over the city during the second half of the twentieth century. Those are precisely the themes that Smith drew upon in her tale, thus many themes were simply over my head. After finishing the book, I read an article about Smith's symbolism in the story. Left to my own intellect, I never would have recognized those symbols (thank heavens I didn't major in literature; I surely would have failed).

I did enjoy the way the book came together at the end of the story and how all the storylines came to a climax at a precise moment in time. That in itself has me interested in reading another novel by Zadie Smith. I thought her ending was clever and creative but I can also admit, due to my snail's pace of reading, that the emerged details were more of a surprise to me because they were mostly forgotten in my mind. I can't say I really laughed at any point in the book and many of the characters in the story were really unlikeable, but there was a peculiar draw to Smith's writing style. This book may not have been my cup of tea, but I'm not deterred from reading another Smith novel in the future.

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