By Zadie Smith
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. 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.
I was intrigued to read White Teeth because every single time I’ve ever been in a charity shop looking for books it’s been sat on the shelf. Normally just the one copy but it’s always there lingering waiting for someone to finally pick it up. Well I was sick of seeing it and not knowing what it was all about so I decided to pick it up, I wanted to discover they mystery of why this book was sat in numerous amounts of charity shops all the time, considering it won the 2000 Whitbread first novel award and has high praise from The New york Times, Salam Rushdie and The Times surely it’s not a bad novel?. Now that I have finished Zadie Smith’s debut novel I can tell you why I think it has been abandoned by so many bookworms.
Laborious in places the book just seemed to trundle along, there is no real grip or plot line to White Teeth, it’s more of a character study, but most of the characters don’t really seem to develop and most of them just irritated me. There were lots of parts of the book that I really got into and couldn’t put the book down but there were also a lot of parts like Archie & Samad in war or the chapter about Irie’s grandmother Hortense Bowden that felt needless and I just didn’t care about they didn’t add to the story at all. Though I say “story” lightly, there just wasn’t one. There was no crisis, or climax to the novel or characters, just nothing gripping to drive the story forward. There was no clear beginning, middle or ending for me and I think that’s why it was hard to get into and keep interest in. You could pick up a chapter drop it 5 chapters behind and the book would still make sense.
But it wasn’t all bad… There were a lot of poignant moments in the novel, Zadie Smith tackled subjects such as race, identity, society and class, religion and tradition. I think a lot of these themes were summed up nicely in one quote.
“Millat was a Paki no matter where he came from; that he smelt of curry; had no sexual identity; took other people’s jobs; or had no job and bummed off the state; or gave all the jobs to his relatives; that he could be a dentist or a shop-owner or a curry-shifter, but not a footballer or a film-maker; that he should go back to his own country; or stay here and earn his bloody keep; that he worshipped elephants and wore turbans; that no one who looked like Millat or spoke like Millat, or felt like Millat, was ever on the news unless they had recently been murdered. In short, he knew he had no face in this country, no voice in this country.”
My favourite character was Irie Jones, she was the only character I felt that had depth and character development, she wanted to change, she wanted to do something with her life, she took action, she had a voice, she had an opinion, she wants to fit in, she was determined.
I can’t fault Zadie Smith, she wrote this in her very early 20s so I don’t disregard her talent for writing at all!, I do think it’s a very established clever book just not really to my taste. It’s not a terrible read it’s not my favourite book in the world. It’s just one of those books you read once to tick off the list. I don’t think I would ever pick it up again and it’s not something I would necessarily recommend. Therefore my copy will thus return to its humble home, the charity shop shelf.
Have you read White Teeth, what did you think of it? Have you read anthing else by Zadie Smith you would recommend? I would love to know. Thanks for reading. Katie x