“You must live life with the full knowledge that your actions will remain. We are creatures of consequence.”
― Zadie Smith, White Teeth
Zadie Smith has been hugely celebrated for this book and others, and WHITE TEETH is the first I have read by her. It is a multi-generational/multi-ethnic/multi-themed tome of a book, and though two months or so have passed since I finished it, I am still not quite certain how I feel about it.
One one hand, Smith is brilliant at sketching out characters. They are larger-than-life, and yet incredible human. The whole novel is permeated with a sense of heightened reality, that everything could be true, but is taken just a step too far.
The book tells the story of Brit Archie and his Bengali friend, Samad, and later of their children. The story is set in London, a place so alive and varied, it is practically a character in itself, and was a perfect choice by Smith. I liked the part of the book which focused on Archie and Samad, who are very memorable, particularly the latter, in that they are almost caricatures of themselves or the roles they are meant to fill.
The story lost me a bit after about two-thirds, when it veered into so many directions, and focused on the second generation. I didn't much care about any of the characters, at this point, and the story was too all-over-the-place, like lots of loose and electric wires which are never satisfactorily untangled.
Despite these gripes, it is a worthwhile read in that it brings up issues that are relevant today still. Smith does not shy away from uglier, controversial topics and throws up questions regarding race, identity, purpose, religion, which most people probably consider at some point or another in their lives. I think I would have preferred this book to have been two volumes, and I might have read only the first one about Archie and Samad.
Nonetheless, I can see myself keeping an eye on this author and what else she has on offer.