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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.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read
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.
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Epic in scale and intimate in approach, White Teeth is a formidably ambitious debut. First novelist Zadie Smith takes on race, sex, class, history, and the minefield of gender politics, and such is her wit and inventiveness that these weighty subjects seem effortlessly light. She also has an impressive geographical range, guiding the reader from Jamaica to Turkey to Bangladesh and back again.
Still, the book's home base is a scrubby North London borough, where we encounter Smith's unlikely heroes: prevaricating Archie Jones and intemperate Samad Iqbal, who served together in the so-called Buggered Battalion during World War II. In the ensuing decades, both have gone forth and multiplied: Archie marries beautiful, bucktoothed Clara--who's on the run from her Jehovah's Witness mother--and fathers a daughter. Samad marries stroppy Alsana, who gives birth to twin sons. Here is multiculturalism in its most elemental form: "Children with first and last names on a direct collision course. Names that secrete within them mass exodus, cramped boats and planes, cold arrivals, medical checks."
Big questions demand boldly drawn characters. Zadie Smith's aren't heroic, just real: warm, funny, misguided, and entirely familiar. Reading their conversations is like eavesdropping. Even a simple exchange between Alsana and Clara about their pregnancies has a comical ring of truth: "A woman has to have the private things--a husband needn't be involved in body business, in a lady's... parts." And the men, of course, have their own involvement in bodily functions:
The deal was this: on January 1, 1980, like a New Year dieter who gives up cheese on the condition that he can have chocolate, Samad gave up masturbation so that he might drink. It was a deal, a business proposition, that he had made with God: Samad being the party of the first part, God being the sleeping partner. And since that day Samad had enjoyed relative spiritual peace and many a frothy Guinness with Archibald Jones; he had even developed the habit of taking his last gulp looking up at the sky like a Christian, thinking: I'm basically a good man.Not all of White Teeth is so amusingly carnal. The mixed blessings of assimilation, for example, are an ongoing torture for Samad as he watches his sons grow up. "They have both lost their way," he grumbles. "Strayed so far from what I had intended for them. No doubt they will both marry white women called Sheila and put me in an early grave." These classic immigrant fears--of dilution and disappearance--are no laughing matter. But in the end, they're exactly what gives White Teeth its lasting power and undeniable bite. --Eithne Farry From the Back Cover:
“A preternaturally gifted new writer [with] a voice that’s street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time.”–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“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
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