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White Teeth Hardcover – April 25, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (April 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375501851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375501852
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (452 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Epic in scale and intimate in approach, White Teeth is a formidably ambitious debut. First novelist Zadie Smith takes on race, sex, class, history, and the minefield of gender politics, and such is her wit and inventiveness that these weighty subjects seem effortlessly light. She also has an impressive geographical range, guiding the reader from Jamaica to Turkey to Bangladesh and back again.

Still, the book's home base is a scrubby North London borough, where we encounter Smith's unlikely heroes: prevaricating Archie Jones and intemperate Samad Iqbal, who served together in the so-called Buggered Battalion during World War II. In the ensuing decades, both have gone forth and multiplied: Archie marries beautiful, bucktoothed Clara--who's on the run from her Jehovah's Witness mother--and fathers a daughter. Samad marries stroppy Alsana, who gives birth to twin sons. Here is multiculturalism in its most elemental form: "Children with first and last names on a direct collision course. Names that secrete within them mass exodus, cramped boats and planes, cold arrivals, medical checks."

Big questions demand boldly drawn characters. Zadie Smith's aren't heroic, just real: warm, funny, misguided, and entirely familiar. Reading their conversations is like eavesdropping. Even a simple exchange between Alsana and Clara about their pregnancies has a comical ring of truth: "A woman has to have the private things--a husband needn't be involved in body business, in a lady's... parts." And the men, of course, have their own involvement in bodily functions:

The deal was this: on January 1, 1980, like a New Year dieter who gives up cheese on the condition that he can have chocolate, Samad gave up masturbation so that he might drink. It was a deal, a business proposition, that he had made with God: Samad being the party of the first part, God being the sleeping partner. And since that day Samad had enjoyed relative spiritual peace and many a frothy Guinness with Archibald Jones; he had even developed the habit of taking his last gulp looking up at the sky like a Christian, thinking: I'm basically a good man.
Not all of White Teeth is so amusingly carnal. The mixed blessings of assimilation, for example, are an ongoing torture for Samad as he watches his sons grow up. "They have both lost their way," he grumbles. "Strayed so far from what I had intended for them. No doubt they will both marry white women called Sheila and put me in an early grave." These classic immigrant fears--of dilution and disappearance--are no laughing matter. But in the end, they're exactly what gives White Teeth its lasting power and undeniable bite. --Eithne Farry

From Publishers Weekly

The scrambled, heterogeneous sprawl of mixed-race and immigrant family life in gritty London nearly overflows the bounds of this stunning, polymathic debut novel by 23-year-old British writer Smith. Traversing a broad swath of cultural territory with a perfect ear for the nuances of identity and social class, Smith harnesses provocative themes of science, technology, history and religion to her narrative. Hapless Archibald Jones fights alongside Bengali Muslim Samad Iqbal in the English army during WWII, and the two develop an unlikely bond that intensifies when Samad relocates to Archie's native London. Smith traces the trajectory of their friendship through marriage, parenthood and the shared disappointments of poverty and deflated dreams, widening the scope of her novel to include a cast of vibrant characters: Archie's beautiful Jamaican bride, Clara; Archie and Clara's introspective daughter, Irie; Samad's embittered wife, Alsana; and Alsana and Samad's twin sons, Millat and Magid. Torn between the pressures of his new country and the old religious traditions of his homeland, Samad sends Magid back to Bangladesh while keeping Millat in England. But Millat falls into delinquency and then religious extremism, as earnest Magid becomes an Anglophile with an interest in genetic engineering, a science that Samad and Millat repudiate. Smith contrasts Samad's faith in providence with Magid's desire to seize control of the future, involving all of her characters in a debate concerning past and present, determinism and accident. The tooth--half root, half protrusion--makes a perfect trope for the two families at the center of the narrative. A remarkable examination of the immigrant's experience in a postcolonial world, Smith's novel recalls the hyper-contemporary yet history-infused work of Rushdie, sharp-edged, fluorescent and many-faceted. Agent, Georgia Garrett. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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.

Customer Reviews

Smith's characters are all wonderfully unique and terrifically funny.
Elizabeth Hendry
It seems that while the characters are very rich, and their individual stories are entertaining, there is no apparent plot for the majority of the book.
Amazon Customer
I tried to get to know the characters, I tried to get into the story...that's just it, I had to try very hard to like this book.
Rosemarie Romeo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

230 of 259 people found the following review helpful By Mr. K. Mahoney on April 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a first class debut novel, which has made the news due to the huge advance, which the author received - a six-figure number. So, the question seems to be: is White Teeth worth all that money? The answer has to be YES.
White Teeth is a brilliant novel, superbly confident in its execution. It starts off in 1975, the year of the author's birth, with the attempted suicide of Archibald Jones. Anyone who was born in 1970s Britain cannot fail but identify with the characters and events in this book. If you can recall the VW badge craze, then this is the book for you. However, this is not just a novel for the younger generation, for there is at least one extended family in White Teeth, each member of which is brought vividly to life. There's Archibald Jones and Samed Iqbal, who first meet in a British tank in 1945, and who then meet up again thirty years later to start the families featured within White Teeth. There's the brilliant and comic portrayal of the aged Hortense Bowden, an avid Jehovah's Witness, who keeps waiting for the end of the world.
Zadie Smith's novel has been described as Dickensenian, but I think there's a touch of Thackeray in there too. The author mocks her characters, and parodies them, but she also has a lot of compassion for them. No one, in the world of White Teeth, is beyond redemption. Zadie Smith's characters are truly vibrant. Take Samed Iqbal and his troubles with 'slapping the salami'. As a reader, you begin to wonder how Zadie Smith has such insight into the male mind and universe, because it rings so true.
For anyone embarking on a Cultural Studies course, this novel is a must. Throw away your textbooks with their dry statistics!
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79 of 89 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 23, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The word that kept coming to mind as I read this book was "ambitious." Smith ties together a legion of vividly and deeply drawn characters, all with different agendas; several different timelines; a rather byzantine central plot; and commentary on everything from genetic research to high school social hierarchy. It's a lot to swallow in one novel.
She is most adept at drawing her characters--their physical characteristics, quirks and misgivings come alive on the page. Smith also provides sharp, witty insights on pop culture and life in the mixing bowl that is North London.
However, the elaborate character development takes away momentum from the plot, and has the effect of making the plot move in fits and starts. Just when I was starting to enjoy a scene or get into one character's actions, she'd go off on a tangent that seemed to link characters and actions only very remotely to each other. At times it felt a little self-indulgent, like she was admiring her own ability to turn a clever phrase or take the action momentarily off-course and then bring it back again.
By the time I was 400 pages into the book, I was asking, "How in the heck is she going to wrap this all up into an ending?" I think Smith was asking herself the same question at this point. The ending comes off as a bit of a stretch, but she does manage to pull things together reasonably well. Still, after I closed the cover, I said, "huh?" and had to go back and reread some earlier sections to figure out how they tied to the ending.
To me, this book needed a skilled editor who could tighten things up and keep things moving with out taking too much away from the rambling, bildungsroman-esque nature of the plot. It'll be interestesting to see what Smith has to say in her next novel--this one seemed to cover every base, at length.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Sascha Suenos on April 8, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've never written an Amazon review before, but was finally moved to do so by reading a preceding review in which the reviewer said:
"I couldn't stand any of the characters; I didn't empathize with them. Perhaps this is because I am a white American, far removed from the London Zadie Smith writes of, but I doubt it. I don't think that she (the writer) likes any of her characters, except for perhaps Irie, the only character that actually develops during the course of the novel. At one point early in the book, I thought to myself that Zadie Smith must be a rather mean person to describe so many people so hatefully."

I wonder whether this reader and I read the same book.
I too am white and American, and that made the book especially important, interesting and educational for me.
I felt it was a valuable privilege to read the obviously honestly told, and deeply felt, experience of a person so different from me as Zadie Smith.
I am also grateful she still has the hope and passion to make the effort to tell it, since many nonwhites have given up trying to talk about the subjects of which Smith writes, at least to a mixed-race audience.
One of the things that most delighted and impressed me about this book was what I experienced as Smith's deep compassion, which I believe she extended to almost all her characters, across color, culture, gender, sexual orientation and religion.
The only characters I recall her having treated without compassion were-- perhaps not coincidentally-- also probably the most egregious hypocrites in the book.
I do see this as a flaw, but certainly not enough of one to significantly diminish my overall good opinion of, and pleasure in reading, the book.
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