On the surface, Swing Time is about two girls — only one with talent — who dream of being dancers. But what Zadie Smith gives us in her crisp, nuanced prose is a complex study of friendship, enmity, pop culture, roots, ambition, difference, and, underlying it all, race. Recommended By Gigi L., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
An ambitious, exuberant new novel moving from North-West London to West Africa, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and On Beauty
brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent.
The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black
music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a
close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their
early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten,
Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time
is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we
are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from
North-West London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music
At a dance class offered in a local church in London in the early 1980s two brown girls recognize themselves in one another and become friends. Tracey has a sassy white mum a black father in prison and a pink Barbie sports car. The other girl the narrator of Smith's (NW) powerful and complex novel remains unnamed. Although she lives in the same public housing as Tracey she's being raised among books and protests by an intellectual black feminist mother and a demure white father. As with Smith's previous work the nuances of race relations are both subtle and explicit not the focus of the book and yet informing every interaction. The girls both love dancing but this commonality reflects their differences more than their similarities. Whereas Tracey's physical grace is confident and intuitive the narrator is drawn to something more ephemeral: "a dancer was a man from nowhere without parents or siblings without a nation or people without obligations of any kind and this was exactly the quality I loved" she thinks. The book tracks the girls as they move in different directions through adolescence and the final abrupt fissures of their affection; it also follows the narrator into adulthood where she works for a decade as the personal assistant to a world famous (white) pop star named Aimee. In this role she's able to embody what she admired about dancers as a child: she travels constantly rarely sees her mother and has lost touch with everyone other than her employer. Once Aimee begins to build a girls' school in an unnamed Muslim West African country the novel alternates between that world and the London of the girls' youth. In both places poverty is a daily struggle and the juxtaposition makes for poignant parallels and contrasts. Though some of the later chapters seem unnecessarily protracted the story is rich and absorbing especially when it highlights Smith's ever brilliant perspective on pop culture. Agent: Georgia Garrett Rogers Coleridge and White. (Nov.) " Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
"Agile and discerning…With homage to dance as a unifying force, arresting observations…exceptionally diverse and magnetizing characters, and lashing satire, Swing Time is an acidly funny, fluently global, and head-spinning novel about the quest for meaning, exaltation, and love….This tale of friendship lost and found is going to be big." Booklist (Starred Review)
“[A] powerful and complex novel…Rich and absorbing,
especially when it highlights Smith’s ever-brilliant perspective on pop
culture.” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“A keen, controlled novel about dance and blackness steps onto a
stage of cultural land mines…Smith is dazzling in her specificity,
evoking predicaments, worldviews, and personalities with a camera-vivid
precision…Moving, funny, and grave, this novel parses race and global
politics with Fred Astaire’s or Michael Jackson’s grace.” Kirkus (Starred Review)
About the Author
Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, and NW, as well as a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. Swing Time is her fifth novel.