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[56] White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Painstakingly funny and stippled with serious, provocative, and biting prose, White Teeth ponders at a quasi midlife crisis that roots in the conflict between preserving one’s cultural legacy and conforming to the mainstream society. The narrative begins in the 1970s England and oscillates in both chronological directions. 47-years-old Archibald Jones contemplates suicide after his marriage of 30 years collapsed. After the futile effort to take his life he quickly marries a 19-years-old Jehovah Witness-reared Jamaican girl Clara. From this odd, loveless inter-racial second marriage spin a tapestry of domestic farce, dyfunctional family drama, and an unswerving determination to fight against conforming to the “English” (aka white) society that ubiquitously divests their cultural roots.

Jones’ best friend Samad Iqbal, whom he befriended during World War II in a tank, strives to convince his wife Alsana that sending one of their twins back to the native Bengal is conducive to preserving the tradition and root which are the untainted principles. The fact that his favorite twin Magid wants to be called Mark Smith when he is around the white boys in the neighborhood unnerves him. He thinks his son (and so his family) is on the brink of being white-washed and driven away from Allah, who has premeditated life and fate. To Samad, who is a hyprocrite himself having an affair with his son’s music teacher, assimilation is no more than plain downright corruption, which has contaminated his other twin Millat.

The domestic tension aroused in White Teeth can be traced back to an innocent origin of a parent’s concern: What kind of world (environment) do you want your children to grow up in? Samad’s concern transcends safety–he paves the path, makes future decisions, and strives at all expense to thwart the pervasion of Englishness. While immigrants want to fit in and not to be treated as foreigners or some second-class citizens, Samad’s generation–one that is split by geography and language–inevitably find their children growing up to be complete strangers who are oblivious to the traditional customs. This subtle conflict manifests in almost every line of the dialogues and penetrates conversation at the dinner table.

Despite all the mixing up, despite the fact that we have finally slipped into each others’ lives, despite the fact that the GAP includes black and Asian models in the commercials, with reasonable comfort, it is still difficult to resist the urge to conform and to assimilate. White Teeth audaciously captures this urgent desire to right the society, and at the same time delivers a sense of qualm of the Second Coming, cloning, recombinant DNA technology, genetic engineering. Afterall White Teeth is a magnifying glass of the clash between traditional values and new ideas.

5 Responses

  1. Yes, but have you started reading “The Importance of Being Barbra”??? LOL!

    No, this sounds quite interesting. I saw that book recently.

    I am currently working my way thru “Rose of No Man’s Land” by Michelle Tea and “Pulling Taffy” by Matt Sycamore (sp?) —- both are great writers but there is something missing in each of these volumes. I can’t quite put my mental finger on it, tho.

    I have 6 other books waiting but I am cutting down to two books at a time for now.

  2. I really need to read this. I have had it for ages. Her new one doesn’t appeal to me, but this one sounds good!

  3. Hey, Matthew…

    Thanks for your phone call and message the other day. I’ve been working on a few last articles for this Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. The deadline was yesterday, but I’m afraid I’ll need to squeeze another couple days out of the exercise.

    Anyway, today I’m visiting friends in San Jose. I need the sunshine. But I’m back tomorrow and will give you a call then.

    Let’s hang out.


  4. super read – here’s my two pence —

    this book opens up a can of characters..

    who each fascinates in its scrambling attempts to survive – base instinctive clawing, white teeth gritting, desperate race to flee of its own shadow. and while you are chasing these lurid characters trying to keep up with their individual streaks, from one to the other to the other, unable to look away, there is something else going on in the spaces between the lines.. more..

  5. […] Addiction, Vulpes Libris, Fifty Books Project, The Book Pirate, Books 4 Breakfast, Bibliofreakblog, A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook, Sorry Television, Annotated Nation. Did I miss yours? Let me know and I will add your review to […]

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