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White Teeth by Zadie Smith
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White Teeth (2000)

by Zadie Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
11,087194345 (3.74)2 / 614
  1. 61
    Small Island by Andrea Levy (CVBell)
    CVBell: Like White Teeth, Small Island illuminates the Caribbean immigrant experience in England, and like Zadie Smith, Levy is a major talent.
  2. 42
    Brick Lane by Monica Ali (Booksloth)
  3. 20
    The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow (sduff222)
  4. 20
    Apples by Richard Milward (rory1000)
  5. 00
    The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie (ateolf)
  6. 00
    One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (renardkitsune)
  7. 11
    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Readers will enjoy White Teeth and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand for their character development and humor, along with lighthearted treatment of serious topics such as race relations, religious fanaticism, self-understanding, and similar aspects of modern English life.… (more)
  8. 00
    The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen (rjuris)
  9. 02
    A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards (vimandvigor)
    vimandvigor: multi-ethnic cast of characters; set in London; literary writing style.
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English (181)  Italian (4)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (3)  Catalan (2)  Finnish (1)  All languages (194)
Showing 1-5 of 181 (next | show all)
This book focuses on two wartime friends, Bangladeshi Samar Iqbal and Englishman Archie Jones, and their families in London. It centers around Britain's relationships with people from formerly colonized countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Major themes are immigration, roots, teeth, chance, race, assimilation and fundamentalism. I found it to be a powerful book with lots of wit and insight. Not to be missed! ( )
  EadieB | Sep 3, 2018 |
The plot twist of the ending WAS pretty good. I was prepared to give it nothing but scathing, negative comments; but she did pull off a good ending.
But oy, so many tangents! Too long! "Oh, you cannot possibly understand Clara without first knowing about Ryan Topps..." I beg to differ. We did not need to know one whit about Ryan Topps - it would have made NO difference to the progress of the story whatsoever.
Most of the characters were at least a bit grotesque, and quite incoherent to me. So much inexplicable conversion to religious fanaticism (Samad, Millat, Ryan Topps). I only liked Irie, and Niece-of-Shame - I LOVED Niece-of-Shame. And I loved Irie's speech telling off her family at the end - I love when annoying characters get put in their place.
But everyone else? Samad? Was he a good sympathetic guy, or a religious fanatic - if a religious fanatic, why did he become upset when his son also because a religious fanatic? Millat - a bad boy, yet, joins a religious cult? Clara - a sex bomb walking down the stairs, and then all this back history about her being ugly, and then, what of her? She had no personality.
Things started to wear thin for me with the tangent of the Chelfins, and towards the end when Irie has sex with both twins (in succession) on one night, I decided I hated it - by that time, things felt genuinely random, and I can't abide reading something where it seems that at any moment literally anything can happen.
Thankfully, as I said, it was tied together at the end (though I hate when pregnancy is used as a tie-together part of an ending, even a small part as here); it had a real conclusion, overlaying everything prior with SOME point. But I've definitely spent a better 448 pages in my life. ( )
  Tytania | Aug 29, 2018 |
Growing up in London, Zadie Smith- a 24 year old woman of British and Jamaican descent- surprised the world with her first novel. "White Teeth" is a searing drama of epic proportions that encompasses a variety of issues including religious beliefs of the modern world, adapting to new customs as an immigrant, fate versus free-will, and genetic engineering. In a follow-up interview with Time Magazine, this energetic author remarks, “I wanted to write a “big” book... What did people think I was going to write? Some kind of searing slave drama or single-girl-in London tale?”

Smith captures the reader’s imagination by bringing to life characters from different nationalities, religions, and social backgrounds in a world where one soon realizes life has a tendency to just happen, regardless of carefully laid plans.

Her primary characters- London born Archie Jones and Pakistani Sadam Iqbal- meet in the military during World War II. After the war, despite their differences, both settle in London and become life long friends. This is their story- their jobs, their wives, and their children. Sadam is a waiter in his cousin’s up-scale restaurant. He is in a traditional Pakistani arranged marriage and wants desperately to remain faithful to Allah and shelter his wife and children from the evils of the modern world.

In contrast, Archie leaves everything to fate, believing life’s outcomes are based entirely on happenstance. He carries a “sacred coin” in his pocket at all times. For an occupational specialty, he designs methods of folding paper. He is in his second marriage to a 19 year old Jamaican girl, and above all, he just wants peace and quiet in his life. The novel gets a slow start with a lot of descriptions as Zadie Smith lays the groundwork for what is to come.

As time passes, the story’s focus moves to the teenaged Jones and Iqbal children. Sadam’s twin boys share an extreme dislike for each other. Magid Iqbal is an atheist and his brother Milllat is a religious fanatic. Although Sadam is convinced Millat’s Muslim friends- a bunch of purity-preaching thugs- are nothing more than a street gang. And Archie’s half-Jamaican daughter Irie- never quite comfortable in any one culture- idolizes both of the twins.

Zadie Smith writes in the style of “hysterical realism” The style is best described as “strong contrast between elaborately absurd prose, plotting, or characterization on the one hand, and careful, detailed investigations of real, specific social phenomena on the other.” "White Teeth" is indeed hysterical. Zadie Smith has got a wicked sense of humor, and a magical way with words. It is clever how she uses references to “teeth” throughout the story. As the story progresses, it picks up speed and becomes even more unrestrained.

Her plot becomes somewhat absurd, but it is all part of the cynical belief that life is random… that cosmic forces will eventually meet and cause hysteria and chaos.
Though a number of idioms may apply, John Lennon described it perfectly, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”… more commonly, “shit happens! “

Considering the originality and its pure entertainment factor, "White Teeth" gets a stellar rating, though the conclusion is strange, silly, and melodramatic. The last quarter of the book builds to a dynamic climax… creating intense suspense. Finally- in the last few pages- the story is cut short and comes to an abrupt end. I found myself disappointedly gaping for a credible conclusion, thinking, “WHAT?... unbelievable!” ( )
  LadyLo | Jul 12, 2018 |
This book started bad for me and just got worse. I found the characters to be boring and two-dimensional. Actually, even worse, the author tried to build up the characters in most cases (though doing a poor job, I'd say), but then later reduced their roles to caricatures. So even those I was inclined to like wound up irritating me every time they opened their mouths.

Further, Smith's style is all over the place. At times I found it indulgent and pretentious, others fawningly resembling other authors, and the style would sometimes change abruptly from one paragraph to the next.

I find what what often at least partially redeems books like this is an interesting plot. Not so in White Teeth! There's no real story arc to hold the book together. The plot kind of twisted along for a while and I couldn't really tell where it was going. Then it ends in this bizarre attempt to draw all of the characters and threads together which totally fails as a climax. I would have been more irritated about this particular point but I was so happy I was done with the book, I was inclined to forgive it more than was deserved.

I truly don't understand what all the hype was over this book. There is lots I can forgive especially in a first novel, but there wasn't nearly enough here to convince me that Smith is a great writer who just needs some time to come into her own. There were a few interesting ideas and notions, but they were isolated and swamped by a thousand other boring ones, not to mention cliches, unclever witticisms, and tired plot devices.

I could go on, but I rather forget I ever read this! Gah!
( )
  dan4mayor | Jun 28, 2018 |
A look at the relationships between various members of 2 families in London over several decades. Best part for me was how the conflict between the immigrant parents' culture & the British culture affected the second generation in different ways. ( )
  leslie.98 | Apr 13, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 181 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Smith, Zadieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Akura, LynnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brinkman, SophieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elden, Willem vanContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grimaldi, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'What's past is prologue'
-- The Tempest, Act II, scene i
In this wrought-iron world of criss-cross cause and effect, could it be that the hidden throb I stole from them did not affect their future?
-- Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Dedication
To my mother and my father
And for Jimmi Rahman
First words
Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgment would not be too heavy upon him.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375703861, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:46 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

From the Publisher: 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.… (more)

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