(White Teeth, Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton)
What happens when a White-British soldier and an Bengali-Indian soldier are stranded, fighting a war no one has bothered to tell them is over? Well, a friendship spanning forty years, multiple wives, affairs, and children, of course. At least that’s what happened to Samad Iqbal and Archie Jones in Zadie Smith’s novel, White Teeth.
White Teeth is a novel that explores the ways in which individuals become involved with each other, either through happenstance or deliberate intervention, and the mess and the beauty that results from it. Archie and Samad’s friendship takes them from a tiny Bulgarian village to the NorthWest London suburb of Willesden. Both get married: Archie to Clara, Samad to Alsana. These unfortunate and impracticle unions introduce a new generation in that of their children.
Irie, Magid, and Millat occupy a confusing place in the globalized, western world: they have historical ties to their parents’ home countries, but their social ties are with the country they were born in, England. This causes deep rifts in all of their households. Both sets of parents are trying to reconcile their past in the standards and limitation that they’ve placed on their children, who are trying to wade the flow of independence and the ebb of “tradition.”
Zadie reveals one of the oldest, yet most painful and hard-to-grasp truths about life and that is that one cannot impose one’s hopes and dreams on another for one will be left with an even deeper disappointment than before.
Zadie’s hilarious wit provides a satiric and comedic introspection into the tangling of roots, and tradition, and independent will. Her observation of the reality of second and third generations of individuals growing up in the western world, and all of the confusion and conflicts that arise is so keen that she instantly becomes a voice of a generation, a class, a culture of people in the 21st century western world.
She has created timeless work that I find to be an important novel for all young people to read. I was nine when this book was first published, but at 22 I can relate to the conflicting and ambiguous worlds of Ire, Magid, and Millat, who are trying to figure out where they fit within their country, their culture, and their religion.
It’s a coming-of-age story, a coming-to-terms story, and an overall enjoyable story that one shouldn’t exit life before having read.