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White Teeth (2000)

by Zadie Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
12,888231394 (3.74)2 / 691
At the center of this invigorating and hilarious novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, hapless veterans of World War II. Set against London's racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire's past as it barrels toward the future, "White Teeth" is an international bestseller now available in paperback.… (more)
  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. 52
    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. 12
    A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards (vimandvigor)
    vimandvigor: multi-ethnic cast of characters; set in London; literary writing style.
1990s (148)
hopes (29)
To Read (144)

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English (213)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (3)  Catalan (3)  Italian (3)  French (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (228)
Showing 1-5 of 213 (next | show all)
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.
  CarrieFortuneLibrary | Sep 5, 2022 |
An entertaining read full of quirky, funny characters showing the effects of multiculturalism on English culture. It's not just a Canadian or American thing and the changes it brings about. ( )
  charlie68 | Aug 10, 2022 |
Good writer but she needed an editor. ( )
  tgamble54 | Jun 3, 2022 |
way too much information and explicit detailing for me but I kept reading ( )
  WiseOwlFactory | Feb 20, 2022 |
⚠️ possible Trigger Warning: racism, some domestic violence, classism

👄 Her dialogue writing style reminds me a little bit of Tom Robbins in “Skinny Legs and All” (but it could be my faulty memory…it’s been a minute). She has a great command of dialogue, character and metaphor development! - Bitingly smart but at times the effort to be “smart” is a bit difficult to get through.

📝 I don’t do synopses because they are so easily found on Goodreads or Google. - But, pretty much, It’s a story about an unusual friendship between Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal (with his arranged marriage to a young wife, Alsana) and Englishman Archie Jones (and his Jamaican young wife, Clara). The children they have and their cultural, religious, marriage, and parenting struggles.
It’s a story about negotiating friendships between individuals from separate cultures, generational gaps, different religious viewpoints and parenting practices. It is also a story of the relationship immigrants from colonized countries have with Britain. The tug and pull between their mother country/culture and what feels like an inevitable demise into acculturation and assimilation when it comes to their children.
I felt some sections were a bit overdrawn and well…smug? It was as if the narrator was in on a joke the rest of us just couldn’t “get” and we had to be “schooled” on all the unpleasantness of the characters in ways that were just….condescending. But hey…it was witty and the irony was satisfying enough.
I also found it difficult to relate to the characters despite the amazing dialogue. I felt a little cheated when it comes to Clara. Her voice got lost in the shuffle. Also, the “Clara” that resurfaced later in the book just did not feel like the Clara we initially met and I don’t know why and that bugs me.

Still...when I was not reading, I would often find myself thinking about the characters, the plot, the damage, the sadness, the irony, everything….and that alone is worth a read for me!
I recently found out Ms. Smith was in her early twenties when she finished this book. So yeah…take all I said with a grain of salt because the fact that she could spit out a book like this in her early twenties it’s quite impressive.

To be able to wrap up all of these complex thoughts and voices on religion, culture, race, identity, etc., and do it with humor and not coming across as preachy, is a pretty amazing feat!

Quotes I liked:
“She wore her sexuality with an older woman’s ease, and not (as with most of the girls Archie had run with in the past ) like an awkward purse, never knowing how to hold it, whether to hang it, or when to just put it down.”
“I left when I was three. Fuck knows I haven’t made anything of this country….who can pull the West out of ‘em once it’s in?”
“We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.”
“But surely to tell these tall tales (possible somewhat tidy endings to the stories) and others like them would be to speed the myth, the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect. And as Archie knows, it’s not like that. It’s never been like that.” ( )
  Eosch1 | Jan 2, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 213 (next | show all)
It follows, for a while, the lives of three poor North London families over several decades of the late 20th Century- the Chalfens, Joneses, and the Iqbals, except that it does not really follow them. There is no coherent thread, just a lot of scenes designed to show us how weird, funny, grotesque, or dull these people of Indian, Jamaican, and Turkish backgrounds are. A few negative reviews have pointed out that Smith, despite her background, has no real grasp of slang- especially that of the Jamaican immigrants the Joneses represent, as she supposedly mixes Jamaican and Rastafarian terms with ease. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but the characters are all stereotypes, and speak in atrocious dialogues, whether or not the patois is correct. To nitpick over the patois when the writing is atrocious is like complaining the rabid dog that bit you also looked flea-bitten.

Conversation is best when it gives the illusion of colloquialism while focusing on the most poetic moments of speech to arrive at illuminating points that a reader can relate to. Conversation, when well used, can be a shortcut o establishing a character's traits and habits, far more easily and quickly than omniscient narration can. Smith has no idea that this is what it can be used for. Instead, she sees it as a way to show hipsterism is alive and well, and she's an initiate of it. The two ostensible leads are Archie Jones- an inveterate liar and Samad Iqbal, a career waiter. They are buddies from World War Two, and the patriarchs of their clans. Archie marries beautiful, but buck-toothed Clara, who hates her Jehovah's Witness mother, thus slipping into an unsavory lifestyle in rebellion. They have a daughter, named Irie. Samad marries a girl named Alsana and has twin boys, Magid and Millat- the former a Fundy Islamist, and the latter a wannabe street thug. Both men are disappointed in life, and an inordinate portion of the book takes place in a dentist's office- hence the title, which also is slang to mean the ideal of a handsome English boy or girl the social climbing foreigners see as ideal mates.

Of course, the children cannot assimilate, and Irie fixates on Millat. Then, nothing much more happens, as the older generations' struggles give way to the younger, including Moslem cultists, genetic experiments on mice, the protests against Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (a cheap way to wrangle a blurb from him- which worked!, as his is the first on the book's blurb page) the Chalfen family, and then the book just ends- as if Smith grew bored with the whole damnable enterprise, and thought she'd just pull the plug. Of course, this end comes only after a hundred and fifty or so pages of a book that seems to want to veer into science fiction before dropping back to failed social satire, and after many other narratives and themes are dropped without reason- admittedly, none were that interesting to begin with, but why start a bad thread if you will not even end it? The book is full of such technical failings, and cannot even qualify as a slice of life tale, in the mold of a lesser A Tree Grows In Brooklyn or the Bridge novels of Evan S. Connell, for it seemingly wants to go somewhere, only to pull back, and just wither.

» 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
Olender, JeanetteDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'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
To my mother and my father
And for Jimmi Rahman
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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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At the center of this invigorating and hilarious novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, hapless veterans of World War II. Set against London's racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire's past as it barrels toward the future, "White Teeth" is an international bestseller now available in paperback.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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