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White Teeth (Vintage International)

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White Teeth (Vintage International) Cover

ISBN13: 9780375703867
ISBN10: 0375703861
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones

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 judgement would not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signaling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year's resolution.

But even as his breathing became spasmodic and his lights dimmed, Archie was aware that Cricklewood Broadway would seem a strange choice. Strange to the first person to notice his slumped figure through the windscreen, strange to the policemen who would file the report, to the local journalist called upon to write fifty words, to the next of kin who would read them. Squeezed between an almighty concrete cinema complex at one end and a giant intersection at the other, Cricklewood was no kind of place. It was not a place a man came to die. It was a place a man came in order to go other places via the A41. But Archie Jones didn't want to die in some pleasant, distant woodland, or on a cliff edge fringed with delicate heather. The way Archie saw it, country people should die in the country and city people should die in the city. Only proper. In death as he was in life and all that. It made sense that Archibald should die on this nasty urban street where he had ended up, living alone at the age of forty-seven, in a one-bedroom flat above a deserted chip shop. He wasn't the type to make elaborate plans - suicide notes and funeral instructions - he wasn't the type for anything fancy. All he asked for was a bit of silence, a bit of shush so he could concentrate. He wanted it to be perfectly quiet and still, like the inside of an empty confessional box or the moment in the brain between thought and speech. He wanted to do it before the shops opened.

Overhead, a gang of the local flying vermin took off from some unseen perch, swooped, and seemed to be zeroing in on Archie's car roof - only to perform, at the last moment, an impressive U-turn, moving as one with the elegance of a curve ball and landing on the Hussein-Ishmael, a celebrated halal butchers. Archie was too far gone to make a big noise about it, but he watched them with a warm internal smile as they deposited their load, streaking white walls purple. He watched them stretch their peering bird heads over the Hussein-Ishmael gutter; he watched them watch the slow and steady draining of blood from the dead things - chickens, cows, sheep - hanging on their hooks like coats around the shop. The Unlucky. These pigeons had an instinct for the Unlucky, and so they passed Archie by. For, though he did not know it, and despite the Hoover tube that lay on the passenger seat pumping from the exhaust pipe into his lungs, luck was with him that morning. The thinnest covering of luck was on him like fresh dew. Whilst he slipped in and out of consciousness, the position of the planets, the music of the spheres, the flap of a tiger-moth's diaphanous wings in Central Africa, and a whole bunch of other stuff that Makes Shit Happen had decided it was second-chance time for Archie. Somewhere, somehow, by somebody, it had been decided that he would live.

~

The Hussein-Ishmael was owned by Mo Hussein-Ishmael, a great bull of a man with hair that rose and fell in a quaff, then a ducktail. Mo believed that with pigeons you have to get to the root of the problem: not the excretions but the pigeon itself. The shit is not the shit (this was Mo's mantra); the pigeon is the shit. So the morning of Archie's almost-death began as every morning in the Hussein-Ishmael, with Mo resting his huge belly on the windowsill, leaning out and swinging a meat cleaver in an attempt to halt the flow of dribbling purple.

'Get out of it! Get away, you shit-making bastards! Yes! SIX!'

It was cricket, basically - the Englishman's game adapted by the immigrant, and six was the most pigeons you could get at one swipe.

'Varin!' said Mo, calling down to the street, holding the bloodied cleaver up in triumph. 'You're in to bat, my boy. Ready?'

Below him on the pavement stood Varin - a massively overweight Hindu boy on misjudged work experience from the school round the corner, looking up like a big dejected blob underneath Mo's question mark. It was Varin's job to struggle up a ladder and gather spliced bits of pigeon into a small Kwik Save carrier bag, tie the bag up, and dispose of it in the bins at the other end of the street.

'Come on, Mr. Fatty-man,' yelled one of Mo's kitchen staff, poking Varin up the arse with a broom as punctuation for each word. 'Get-your-fat-Ganesh-Hindu-backside-up-there-Elephant-Boy-and-bring-some-of-that-mashed-pigeon-stuff-with-you.'

Mo wiped the sweat off his forehead, snorted, and looked out over Cricklewood, surveying the discarded armchairs and strips of carpet, outdoor lounges for local drunks; the slot-machine emporiums, the greasy spoons and the minicabs - all covered in shit. One day, so Mo believed, Cricklewood and its residents would have cause to thank him for his daily massacre; one day no man, woman or child in the broadway would ever again have to mix one part detergent to four parts vinegar to clean up the crap that falls on the world. The shit is not the shit, he repeated solemnly, the pigeon is the shit. Mo was the only man in the community who truly understood. He was feeling really very Zen about this - very goodwill-to-all-men - until he spotted Archie's car.

'Arshad!'

A shifty-looking skinny guy with a handlebar moustache, dressed in four different shades of brown, came out of the shop, with blood on his palms.

'Arshad!' Mo barely restrained himself, stabbed his finger in the direction of the car. 'My boy, I'm going to ask you just once.'

'Yes, Abba?' said Arshad, shifting from foot to foot.

'What the hell is this? What is this doing here? I got delivery at 6.30. I got fifteen dead bovines turning up here at 6.30. I got to get it in the back. That's my job. You see? There's meat coming. So, I am perplexed--' Mo affected a look of innocent confusion. 'Because I thought this was clearly marked "Delivery Area".' He pointed to an aging wooden crate which bore the legend NO PARKINGS OF ANY VEHICLE ON ANY DAYS. Well?'

'I don't know, Abba.'

'You're my son, Arshad. I don't employ you not to know. I employ him not to know' - he reached out of the window and slapped Varin, who was negotiating the perilous gutter like a tightrope-walker, giving him a thorough cosh to the back of his head and almost knocking the boy off his perch -'I employ you to know things. To compute information. To bring into the light the great darkness of the creator's unexplainable universe.'

'Abba?'

'Find out what it's doing there and get rid of it.'

Mo disappeared from the window. A minute later Arshad returned with the explanation. 'Abba.'

Mo's head sprang back through the window like a malicious cuckoo from a Swiss clock.

'He's gassing himself, Abba.'

'What?'

Arshad shrugged. 'I shouted through the car window and told the guy to move on and he says, "I am gassing myself, leave me alone." Like that.'

'No one gasses himself on my property,' Mo snapped as he marched downstairs. 'We are not licensed.'

Once in the street, Mo advanced upon Archie's car, pulled out the towels that were sealing the gap in the driver's window, and pushed it down five inches with brute, bullish force.

'Do you hear that, mister? We're not licensed for suicides around here. This place halal. Kosher, understand? If you're going to die round here, my friend, I'm afraid you've got to be thoroughly bled first.'

Archie dragged his head off the steering wheel. And in the moment between focusing on the sweaty bulk of a brown-skinned Elvis and realizing that life was still his, he had a kind of epiphany. It occurred to him that, for the first time since his birth, Life had said Yes to Archie Jones. Not simply an 'OK' or 'You-might-as-well-carry-on-since-you've-started', but a resounding affirmative. Life wanted Archie. She had jealously grabbed him from the jaws of death, back to her bosom. Although he was not one of her better specimens, Life wanted Archie and Archie, much to his own surprise, wanted Life.

Frantically, he wound down both his windows and gasped for oxygen from the very depths of his lungs. In between gulps he thanked Mo profusely, tears streaming down his cheeks, his hands clinging on to Mo's apron.

'All right, all right,' said the butcher, freeing himself from Archie's fingers and brushing himself clean, 'move along now. I've got meat coming. I'm in the business of bleeding. Not counseling. You want Lonely Street. This Cricklewood Lane.'

Archie, still choking on thank yous, reversed, pulled out from the curb, and turned right.

~

Archie Jones attempted suicide because his wife Ophelia, a violet-eyed Italian with a faint moustache, had recently divorced him. But he had not spent New Year's morning gagging on the tube of a vacuum cleaner because he loved her. It was rather because he had lived with her for so long and had not loved her. Archie's marriage felt like buying a pair of shoes, taking them home and finding they don't fit. For the sake of appearances, he put up with them. And then, all of a sudden and after thirty years, the shoes picked themselves up and walked out of the house. She left. Thirty years.

As far as he remembered, just like everybody else they began well. The first spring of 1946, he had stumbled out of the darkness of war and into a Florentine coffee house, where he was served by a waitress truly like the sun: Ophelia Diagilo, dressed all in yellow, spreading warmth and the promise of sex as she passed him a frothy cappuccino. They walked into it blinkered as horses. She was not to know that women never stayed as daylight in Archie's life; that somewhere in him he didn't like them, he didn't trust them, and he was able to love them only if they wore haloes. No one told Archie that lurking in the Diagilo family tree were two hysteric aunts, an uncle who talked to aubergines and a cousin who wore his clothes back to front. So they got married and returned to England, where she realized very quickly her mistake, he drove her very quickly mad, and the halo was packed off to the attic to collect dust with the rest of the bric-a-brac and broken kitchen appliances that Archie promised one day to repair. Amongst that bric-a-brac was a Hoover.

On Boxing Day morning, six days before he parked outside Mo's halal butchers, Archie had returned to their semi-detached in Hendon in search of that Hoover. It was his fourth trip to the attic in so many days, ferrying out the odds and ends of a marriage to his new flat, and the Hoover was amongst the very last items he reclaimed - one of the most broken things, most ugly things, the things you demand out of sheer bloody-mindedness because you have lost the house. This is what divorce is: taking things you no longer want from people you no longer love.

'So you again,' said the Spanish home-help at the door, Santa-Maria or Maria-Santa or something. 'Meester Jones, what now? Kitchen sink, si?'

'Hoover,' said Archie, grimly. 'Vacuum.'

She cut her eyes at him and spat on the doormat inches from his shoes. 'Welcome, senor.'

The place had become a haven for people who hated him. Apart from the home-help, he had to contend with Ophelia's extended Italian family, her mental-health nurse, the woman from the council, and of course Ophelia herself, who was to be found in the kernel of this nuthouse, curled up in a foetal ball on the sofa, making lowing sounds into a bottle of Bailey's. It took him an hour and a quarter just to get through enemy lines - and for what? A perverse Hoover, discarded months earlier because it was determined to perform the opposite of every vacuum's objective: spewing out dust instead of sucking it in.

'Meester Jones, why do you come here when it make you so unhappy? Be reasonable. What can you want with it?' The home-help was following him up the attic stairs, armed with some kind of cleaning fluid: 'It's broken. You don't need this. See? See?' She plugged it into a socket and demonstrated the dead switch. Archie took the plug out and silently wound the cord round the Hoover. If it was broken, it was coming with him. All broken things were coming with him. He was going to fix every damn broken thing in this house, if only to show that he was good for something.

'You good for nothing!' Santa whoever chased him back down the stairs. 'Your wife is ill in her head, and this is all you can do!'

Archie hugged the Hoover to his chest and took it into the crowded living room, where, under several pairs of reproachful eyes, he got out his toolbox and started work on it.

'Look at him,' said one of the Italian grandmothers, the more glamorous one with the big scarves and fewer moles, 'he take everything, capisce? He take-a her mind, he take-a the blender, he take-a the old stereo - he take-a everything except the floorboards. It make-a you sick. . .'

The woman from the council, who even on dry days resembled a long-haired cat soaked to the skin, shook her skinny head in agreement. 'It's disgusting, you don't have to tell me, it's disgusting ... and naturally, we're the ones left to sort out the mess; it's muggins here who has to -'

Which was overlapped by the nurse: 'She can't stay here alone, can she ... now he's buggered off, poor woman ... she needs a proper home, she needs . . .'

I'm here, Archie felt like saying, I'm right here you know, I'm bloody right here. And it was my blender.

But he wasn't one for confrontation, Archie. He listened to them all for another fifteen minutes, mute as he tested the Hoover's suction against pieces of newspaper, until he was overcome by the sensation that Life was an enormous rucksack so impossibly heavy that, even though it meant losing everything, it was infinitely easier to leave all baggage here on the roadside and walk on into the blackness. You don't need the blender, Archie-boy, you don't need the Hoover. This stuff's all dead weight. Just lay down the rucksack, Arch, and join the happy campers in the sky. Was that wrong? To Archie - ex-wife and ex-wife's relatives in one ear, spluttering vacuum in the other - it just seemed that The End was unavoidably nigh. Nothing personal to God or whatever. It just felt like the end of the world. And he was going to need more than poor whisky, novelty crackers and a paltry box of Quality Street - all the strawberry ones already scoffed - to justify entering another annum.

Patiently he fixed the Hoover, and vacuumed the living room with a strange methodical finality, shoving the nozzle into the most difficult comers. Solemnly he flipped a coin (heads, life, tails, death) and felt nothing in particular when he found himself staring at the dancing lion. Quietly he detached the Hoover tube, put it in a suitcase, and left the house for the last time.

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librariphile, September 24, 2013 (view all comments by librariphile)
I may be late to this party, but I'm still thrilled to be here.

This book is fabulous. I think about the characters and what they're up to when I'm not reading it. I love Smith's wit, character development, and ability to write about race and gender. Love. Can't wait to read everything she writes.
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Baochi, June 16, 2012 (view all comments by Baochi)

From the Baochi Book Collection
Zadie Smith's White Teeth was published in 2000 and received critical acclaim. The novel won numerous awards, including Time Magazine's 2005 list of 100 Best English-Language Novels since 1923. I think White Teeth is a magnificent work of fiction filled with wit, satire, depth, and a cast of unforgettable characters.

The novel takes place in contemporary London and centers around two men -- Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal -- and their families. Englishman Archie and Muslim Bengali Samad form an unlikely friendship as soldiers during World War II and later become neighbors in a working-class suburb. After a failed first marriage, the once-conventional Archie unconventionally marries Clara, a Jamaican woman. The couple has a daughter named Irie. Samad enters into a pre-arranged marriage with Alsana, and they have twin boys named Millat and Magid.

As the members of the two families struggle to define their individual identities in a political and racially-charged society, their bond to one another becomes tenuous. Expectations abound between these two intertwined clans. Samad, a sometimes erring and devout Muslim, finds that his wife's will outmatches his own and that his wayward twin sons have strayed from his religious faith and their Bengali roots. Simple Archie wants everyone to just get along; he is baffled by the tension between his wife and daughter, as well as the teenage angst rippling through all three kids.

White Teeth is a novel about the history of ordinary yet multi-faceted people. It's the story of old and new roots, the immigration experience with its expectations and disappointments. Immigrant parents strive to preserve their native culture yet their children draw towards assimilation with the new world.

Significantly, the novel takes place shortly before the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and a few years prior to the 2005 London underground bombings. So Smith's London is a melting pot simmering up with ethnic tension, especially among Islam extremists.

When it feels like the world is coming to an end (and even when it doesn't), Samad and Archie retreat to the sanctuary of an Irish pub-turned-immigrant-bar with an exclusively-male clientele. There, over a hodgepodge of greasy food, the men reminisce about their personal histories and commiserate over life's disappointments. They are a picture of opposite extremes, one white and uncomplicated if not clueless and the other dark, intense, and anxious. The combination of Archie and Samad is a comical one; their exchanges are often chuckle-worthy. In fact, humor and satire pervade throughout the novel, perhaps a reminder that while the themes of race, religion, and identity are important they shouldn't be taken so seriously that one can't enjoy a beer and grub with one's friend of another race in a bar where everybody knows your name. It makes you wonder if Archie's simple desire for everybody to get along is in fact profoundly utopian.

White Teeth is an energetic, delightful novel worthy of dissection and analysis in a college literature course. I'm impressed.

Below are a few of my favorite passages from Zadie Smith's White Teeth.

"...don't ever underestimate people, don't ever underestimate the pleasure they receive from viewing pain that is not their own, from delivering bad news, watching bombs fall on television., from listening to stifled sobs from the other end of a telephone line. Pain by itself is just Pain. But Pain + Distance can = entertainment, voyeurism, human interest, cinéma vérité, a good belly chuckle, a sympathetic smile, a raised eyebrow, disguised contempt.

What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way? And particularly if they replace us with a god, or a weeping Madonna, or the face of Christ in a ciabatta roll -- then we call them crazy. Deluded. Regressive. 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, 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 and others like them would be to speed the myth, the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect."
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hheilman_89, May 4, 2010 (view all comments by hheilman_89)
Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is a novel which discusses cultural classes and finding ones roots. The protagonists, Archie and Samad, are WWII friends who now reside in London. Their wives, each many years younger, seem to be very mismatched; their marriages are rocky. However, their children, Irie, Magid and Millat, respectively learn about finding oneself in the midst of cultural conflicts as Archie and Samad learn about understanding despite differences. The complexity of human relationships becomes obvious very quickly, especially as their lives change and intertwine and as other characters are added to the mix.
Zadie Smith speaks for an issue that comes up over and over in society because of the relationships we form ourselves; where there are human beings, there are conflicts simply because of our vast individual differences. The events that link the characters—war, immigration, involvement in fundamentalist groups—are similar to those in our own lives. Other issues include defying one’s heritage in exchange for assimilation in society, tolerance, and consequences of the human condition and cultural differences.
Samad explains, “These days it feels to me like you make a devil’s pact when you walk into this country. You hand over your passport at the check-in, you get stamped, you want to make a little money, get yourself started… but you mean to go back! Who would want to stay? Cold, wet, miserable; terrible food, dreadful newspapers—who would want to stay? In a place where you are never welcomed, only tolerated. Just tolerated. Like you are an animal finally housebroken. Who would want to stay? But you have made a devil’s pact… it drags you in and suddenly you are unsuitable to return, your children are unrecognizable, you belong nowhere” (336).
Smith uses one specific symbol throughout her novel: teeth. This was of interest to me because Smith uses this cleverly and in several different manners. The ideas are complex, but not difficult to understand; Smith clearly displays her metaphor. Teeth unify and equalize characters; they are a general symbol for humanity as all people have them. Because they are so common, Smith separates characters if they lose teeth or have false teeth. (“She gave him a wide grin that revealed possibly her one imperfection. A complete lack of teeth in the top of her mouth” (20).) She uses root canals to bring up past events, or to “root around” in the past, or heritage. Likewise, Smith utilizes molars as Samad’s sons reflect and “digest” their father’s actions and their own destinies.
The issue of understanding each other and human relationships comes up again and again. The characters make legitimate attempts to be aware of differences, yet there is an obvious struggle in assimilating and preserving one’s culture. The characters find that one’s heritage veers into different paths; it is not easily defined. The characters take on this challenge differently; Samad makes every attempt to turn his sons into good, Hindu men. Irie finds that her parents neglect to reveal her heritage, so she must find it her own way. Thus, the past restricts at times, and because of this, the present is complicated. The ways in which characters react to these issues bring up our own struggles in maintaining relationships despite different backgrounds.
Zadie Smith’s novel is a successful artwork. She discusses themes applicable to human kind in many different places and times. The ideas are simple to understand, yet the message stays the same; Smith’s ideas will remain as humans continue to struggle to form relationships.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780375703867
Author:
Smith, Zadie
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Author:
Smith, Zadie
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
England
Subject:
Male friendship
Subject:
Domestic fiction
Subject:
London (england)
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage International (Paperback)
Publication Date:
20010631
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
464
Dimensions:
8 x 5.1 x 1 in 0.75 lb

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Related Subjects

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White Teeth (Vintage International) Used Trade Paper
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$3.50 In Stock
Product details 464 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375703867 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[A] vibrant, rollicking first novel about race and idenity....[Smith's] prickly wit is affectionate and poignant."
"Review" by , "[A] marvel of a debut novel....Reminiscent 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."
"Review" by , "A magnificent and audacious novel, jam-packed with memorable characters and challenging ideas."
"Review" by , "Ambitious, earnest and irreverent....Smith has a real talent for comedy and a fond eye for human foibles."
"Review" by , "Smith has an astonishing intellect. She writes sharp dialogue for every age and race — and she's funny as hell."
"Review" by , "Gently observant and generous in its judgments. Filled with vibrant life."
"Synopsis" by , 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.
"Synopsis" by , US
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