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On Beauty [Kindle Edition]

Zadie Smith
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (261 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC


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Book Description

Winner of the 2006 Orange Prize for fiction and from the celebrated author of White Teeth comes another bestselling masterwork

Having hit bestseller lists from the New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle, this wise, hilarious novel reminds us why Zadie Smith has rocketed to literary stardom. On Beauty is the story of an interracial family living in the university town of Wellington, Massachusetts, whose misadventures in the culture wars-on both sides of the Atlantic-serve to skewer everything from family life to political correctness to the combustive collision between the personal and the political. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith's reputation as a major literary talent.

Named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Time, and Publishers Weekly A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Denver Post, and Publishers Weekly bestseller A Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Atlantic Monthly, Newsday, Christian Science Monitor, and Minneapolis Star Tribune Best Book of the Year Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize BACKCOVER: Praise for On Beauty:

"A thoroughly original tale . . . wonderfully engaging, wonderfully observed . . . That rare thing: a novel that is as affecting as it is entertaining, as provocative as it is humane."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A thing of beauty. Oh happy day when a writer as gifted as Zadie Smith fulfills her early promise with a novel as accomplished, substantive and penetrating as On Beauty."
-Los Angeles Times

"Smith's specialty is her ability to render the new world, in its vibrant multiculturalism, with a kind of dancing, daring joy. . . . Her plots and people sing with life. . . . One of the best of the year, a splendid treat. "
-Chicago Tribune

"Short-listed for [the 2005] Man Booker Prize, On Beauty is a rollicking satire . . . a tremendously good read."
-San Francisco Chronicle

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Editorial Reviews Review

In an author's note at the end of On Beauty, Zadie Smith writes: "My largest structural debt should be obvious to any E.M. Forster fan; suffice it to say he gave me a classy old frame, which I covered with new material as best I could." If it is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Forster, perched on a cloud somewhere, should be all puffed up with pride. His disciple has taken Howards End, that marvelous tale of class difference, and upped the ante by adding race, politics, and gender. The end result is a story for the 21st century, told with a perfect ear for everything: gangsta street talk; academic posturing, both British and American; down-home black Floridian straight talk; and sassy, profane kids, both black and white.

Howard Belsey is a middle-class white liberal Englishman teaching abroad at Wellington, a thinly disguised version of one of the Ivies. He is a Rembrandt scholar who can't finish his book and a recent adulterer whose marriage is now on the slippery slope to disaster. His wife, Kiki, a black Floridian, is a warm, generous, competent wife, mother, and medical worker. Their children are Jerome, disgusted by his father's behavior, Zora, Wellington sophomore firebrand feminist and Levi, eager to be taken for a "homey," complete with baggy pants, hoodies and the ever-present iPod. This family has no secrets--at least not for long. They talk about everything, appropriate to the occasion or not. And, there is plenty to talk about.

The other half of the story is that of the Kipps family: Monty, stiff, wealthy ultra-conservative vocal Christian and Rembrandt scholar, whose book has been published. His wife Carlene is always slightly out of focus, and that's the way she wants it. She wafts over all proceedings, never really connecting with anyone. That seems to be endemic in the Kipps household. Son Michael is a bit of a Monty clone and daughter Victoria is not at all what Daddy thinks she is. Indeed, Forster's advice, "Only connect," is lost on this group.

The two academics have long been rivals, detesting each other's politics and disagreeing about Rembrandt. They are thrown into further conflict when Jerome leaves Wellington to get away from the discovery of his father's affair, lands on the Kipps' doorstep, falls for Victoria and mistakes what he has going with her for love. Howard makes it worse by trying to fix it. Then, Kipps is granted a visiting professorship at Wellington and the whole family arrives in Massachusetts.

From this raw material, Smith has fashioned a superb book, her best to date. She has interwoven class, race, and gender and taken everyone prisoner. Her even-handed renditions of liberal and/or conservative mouthings are insightful, often hilarious, and damning to all. She has a great time exposing everyone's clay feet. This author is a young woman cynical beyond her years, and we are all richer for it. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Truly human, fully ourselves, beautiful," muses a character in Smith's third novel, an intrepid attempt to explore the sad stuff of adult life, 21st century–style: adultery, identity crises and emotional suffocation, interracial and intraracial global conflicts and religious zealotry. Like Smith's smash debut, White Teeth (2000), this work gathers narrative steam from the clash between two radically different families, with a plot that explicitly parallels Howards End. A failed romance between the evangelical son of the messy, liberal Belseys;Howard is Anglo-WASP and Kiki African-American;and the gorgeous daughter of the staid, conservative, Anglo-Caribbean Kipps leads to a soulful, transatlantic understanding between the families' matriarchs, Kiki and Carlene, even as their respective husbands, the art professors Howard and Monty, amass matériel for the culture wars at a fictional Massachusetts university. Meanwhile, Howard and Kiki must deal with Howard's extramarital affair, as their other son, Levi, moves from religion to politics. Everyone theorizes about art, and everyone searches for connections, sexual and otherwise. A very simple but very funny joke;that Howard, a Rembrandt scholar, hates Rembrandt;allows Smith to discourse majestically on some of the master's finest paintings. The articulate portrait of daughter Zora depicts the struggle to incorporate intellectual values into action. The elaborate Forster homage, as well as a too-neat alignment between characters, concerns and foils, threaten Smith's insightful probing of what makes life complicated (and beautiful), but those insights eventually add up. "There is such a shelter in each other," Carlene tells Kiki; it's a take on Forster's "Only Connect;," but one that finds new substance here.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 676 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (September 13, 2005)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000PC0SKU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,667 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
129 of 147 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Great September 23, 2005
By Eva La
This book has its moments-- bits of lovely writing, occasional insightful moments, some good laughs. It wasn't a page turner, but I'm not sorry I read it. The book also has a lot of problems, and they distract from the reading experience. The most noteable problem, is, as others have pointed out, the terrible and terribly overdone dialect. The southern graduate student's speech is ridiculous and laughable. Levi's is as well-- and I'm giving smith credit here by assuming it was supposed to be bad dialect, a middle class black american kid emulating slang, but it fails to accurately capture that. Levi speaks like no person in the history of ever, and would be laughed out of his house AND off of any street corner. Moreover, the characters never really come to life-- and this was a book about types I recognized and wanted to like. The Belsey's feel like walking lessons, and fall into cliche. Their feelings are never clear unless they're explicity telling you why they are the way they are. For a while, the sweeping tone of the book and frequent point of view shifts distract from this, but eventually you want a character to hold onto, and there isn't one. The Kipps' are even worse, seeming to exist solely as foils for the Belsey's. Their conservatism and Christianity are so shallow and underutilized from the begining that the subsequent exposure of hypocrisy doesn't pack any sort of punch. No one feels fully imagined. Characters can state a worldview or a self perception, but when all of the characters have to explicitly announce their politics and purposes all the time, it's a problem. More problematically, the pivotal scene of the book isn't really written. It's as if Smith got to the book's climax, realized it was already at least a hundred pages too long, and rushed the ending. Read more ›
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69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Black America? Southern? November 7, 2005
By Sula
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have covered most of what I consider problematic about this book. What bothered me most was that Kiki is a black, Southern woman with absolutely no connection to any black Southern woman I've known or seen. Other reviewers have criticized Smith for her inauthentic dialogue. The inauthenticity extends beyond the dialogue. Smith knows little to nothing about black Southerners. Her description of "soul food," in the book is unrecognizable to any "soul food" emanating from the South. When she has Kiki reverting to her Southern roots, her dialogue, culture, etc. are markedly more Caribbean instead of Southern. The Belsey children speak slang that is Caribbean, not Southern. To some, this may be a minor point, but since Kiki's Florida roots are a central part of her character, that they weren't authentic is troubling.

A sabbatical in New England does not make Smith an authority able to accurately critique American culture, especially black-American culture.
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51 of 60 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wasted Talent February 13, 2006
I just finished reading "On Beauty" after several friends recommended "White Teeth" and I found Smith to be an enormously talented writer who does not humanize her characters. It is hard to say that she does not flesh them out, we do hear their voices but we cannot relate to them except as objects of Smith's satire. There is nothing wrong with writing a purely satirical work but she is trying for something more here and it does not work. After introducing her characters we are ready to enjoy their humor, their failures, their triumphs and eventually their redemptions but, alas, the book ends on a note of cheap revenge that is decidedly unpleasant. She makes some attempts to honor these characters but Smith's basic cynicism does not allow her to do so. I believe Smith believes she is transcending stereotypes by portraying a mixed race marriage and young black intellectuals. Why is it then that Howard, a white, working class man ultimately fails in his dream career and as a family man, that a beautiful, smart black student is portrayed as a sexual predator destroying lives around her. Did Smith so hate her time in America that she has her character Victoria destroy so many lives from the minute she lands here? And on and on with each character whether black or white. One wants to like these characters but she just wont let us. Two scenes I did think were brilliant - the way Claire, the teacher of poetry interacts with her students especially during their evening at The Bus Stop, and the department head making introductory remarks at a faculty meeting with a one line cameo appearance by Smith herself.

Ultimately, this is a mean book with mean characters that leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. I would have given it one star only that Zadie Smith is a brilliant writer. I would say to her "channel your anger, give us believable characters that we can care about". Zadie Smith needs to grow up.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing January 9, 2006
I was hugely disappointed with "On Beauty" after being blown away with Smith's debut "White Teeth". I was certain that she was the UK's new wunderkind.

Many of the storylines lagged with soggy prose and inconsistent characterisation. Who are these people? We get to the end of this book not really knowing the essence of these characters. Too many of the characters are unlikeable. Not helpful for one who is desperately trying to like a book.

I was also concerned with the amount of typos. I am a shameless stickler when it comes to this and was horrified to find so many mistakes. Where were the editors?

It's not all bad, though. There are some beautifully written and hilarious moments throughout this book. The overall picture for me, however, was that of a boring effort and one which did not deserve to be shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh.
Very long and made up entirely of unlikable characters. Maybe it is meant to reflect true life because in reality people are complex and not always likable. Read more
Published 13 days ago by amanda
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh, no. I had such high hopes.
I spotted this in a bookstore in Germany and I get so few opportunities to buy an English novel that I got it. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lucy L. Blaney
2.0 out of 5 stars Shallow Characters
Character development was poor throughout the novel-- the piece seemed much more about Smith's ideas rather than any sort of rounding out of her characters. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Gordon Chen
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts; disappointing ending
The book and story line were often good and engrossing, but the ending made me feel like there was no point to it. Read more
Published 2 months ago by V. Russell
4.0 out of 5 stars Collision of cultures
A collision of 3 different cultures, 2 families and the characters struggle to understand their identity. Some really great characters that are portrayed warts and all. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Kensingtonian
1.0 out of 5 stars not for me
I will never read another Zadie smith book, i am struggeling with this book, itis boreing and mandane.
I never put a book away but this one is getting close to it.
Published 4 months ago by Avital R. Lichter
5.0 out of 5 stars GOOD FOR THE COMMUTE!
This was for my aunt who prefers listening to audio books on her long commute to work.. She loves it!
Published 5 months ago by PC
5.0 out of 5 stars I have read this book six times
Love this book, but it's probably not to everyones' tastes. It relies on the reader having some background in literature and is a satire about academic life.
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars what was the point?
It didn't go anywhere. Unlikable characters, unlikeable families. I wouldn't have plowed through it if it hadn't been on my book group list.
Published 5 months ago by Carol Simon
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book but NW better
Like me I was a fan of Zadie Smith and loved White Teeth and NW, so I just knew that this book was going to be awesome. And for me it was just mehh. Read more
Published 5 months ago by abiddings
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More About the Author

Zadie Smith was born in North West London in 1975 and continues to live in the area. She is currently working on a second novel.

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Topic From this Discussion
'On Beauty' by Zadie Smith
Does it bother anyone that the author basically plagiarized E.M. Forester's novel, Howard's End? Such lazyness and unethical behavior surely discredits this work. (Plus, it wasn't very well written.) A big disappointment.
Sep 5, 2007 by R. L. Sanders |  See all 4 posts
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