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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Discrimination is the theme and Smith captures the feelings of the protagonist.Published 2 days ago by Carolyn J. Rhondeau
Excellent. Really gets into the contradictions of black middle class academic life.Published 3 days ago by Kristin Ohman
This was an okay book, but the characters were very cliche. My biggest problem is the description of life on a US college campus, or rather with the description of its... Read morePublished 1 month ago by hope
I realize I'm late to the party by many, many years. But despite my desire to read, really read, this book after having been impressed with the author's earlier book, White Teeth,... Read morePublished 2 months ago by E. James
Couldn't even finish this book! It took me more than 30 days to read half of it. Extremely slow plot line, boring story overall. A hard book to really sit and enjoy for me.Published 2 months ago by Ellie
Good read at times very interesting story felt incomplete but maybe that's just the optimist in mePublished 3 months ago by Marlon
I can't believe it took so long for me to be introduced to Zadie Smith's writing! "On Beauty" was sublime. Smith absolutely captures the tensions of race and class issues. Read morePublished 4 months ago by JoC
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 morePublished 4 months ago by amanda