When it was first published in 2000, White Teeth
left the book world reeling. Not only had this dazzling take on family and multiculturalism in seventies London earned Zadie Smith instant comparison to legendary authors like Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, and even Charles Dickens, but she had accomplished this feat at the tender age of twenty four. Smith had proven herself a novelist of imagination, depth, and wit, with an astonishing eye for detail and characterization and one of the most precocious talents since J. D. Salinger.
The novel begins when two former soldiers, Archie Jones, a working class Brit, and Samad Iqbal, a Bengali Muslim, reunite after thirty years separation. Bemused by their families and the frenetic multicultural world around them, the two are observers, and eventually unwilling participants, of larger social and cultural changes. Smith imbues her characters and inner city landscape with vibrant color and pitch perfect dialogue. Cacophonous, compassionate, clever, and comic, White Teeth is a triumphant work that is as ambitious as it is fun to read. Katie, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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 café, 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.
"Smith has an astonishing intellect. She writes sharp dialogue for every age and raceand she's funny as hell. Newsweek
An exquisite, blistering debut novel Three brothers tear their way through childhood— smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn—hes Puerto Rican, shes white—and their love is a serious, dangerous thing that makes and unmakes a family many times. Life in this family is fierce and absorbing, full of chaos and heartbreak and the euphoria of belonging completely to one another. From the intense familial unity felt by a child to the profound alienation he endures as he begins to see the world, this beautiful novel reinvents the coming-of-age story in a way that is sly and punch-in-the-stomach powerful. Written in magical language with unforgettable images, this is a stunning exploration of the viscerally charged landscape of growing up, how deeply we are formed by our earliest bonds, and how we are ultimately propelled at escape velocity toward our futures.
A debut novel that is a brilliant exploration of a close, complicated family and the struggle between brotherhood and becoming an individual
About the Author
JUSTIN TORRES is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and a recent Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. He was the recipient of a Rolón Fellowship in Literature from United States Artists and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, Granta, Tin House, and Glimmer Train. Among many other things, he has worked as a farmhand, a dog walker, a creative writing teacher, and a bookseller; he is now a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.
Table of Contents
We Wanted More 1
Never-Never Time 4
The Lake 18
Us Proper 24
Other Locusts 33
Talk to Me 39
You Better Come 44
Night Watch 52
Big-Dick Truck 61
Trash Kites 82
Wasnt No One to Stop This 86
The Night I Am Made 103
Reading Group Guide
The questions and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's discussion of Zadie Smith's White Teeth, a funny, generous, big-hearted novel dealing--among many other things--with friendship, love, war, three cultures, three families over three generations, and the tricky way the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle. It is a life-affirming, riotous, must-read of a book.