by Zadie Smith
White Teeth is Zadie Smith’s acclaimed debut novel, and what a great debut it was. It was published to much critical acclaim and is as relevant today as it was back in 2000. It is not the first of her books I have read but is undoubtedly the best so far.
It tells the story of two unlikely friends and their dysfunctional families across three generations. Concentrating on three points during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, we are introduced to the most mixed-up set of characters outside of a TV soap.
It is a chance meeting during the later stages of the Second World War that first bring Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal together. Thirty years later, and both with young wives, the pair are reunited. Their shared experience creates a bond that will last a lifetime, but it a friendship not without its problems. Struggling with the challenges of parenthood, the old friends follow very different paths.
Taking up the reigns of the story, the next generation of Jones’ and Iqbal’s face very different challenges.
What I really liked about this book was the way that cultural clashes between the characters highlight the struggles within multicultural Britain through the decades but in a very amusing way. There is comedy in even the most serious of situations and in White Teeth, Zadie Smith captures it perfectly. There are plenty of laughs but also some touching insights into how the various prejudices and assumptions on every side impact our relations.
White Teeth is a compelling yet surprisingly easy read. The subjects tackled by Zadie are as serious and relevant today as they ever were, but the way she deals with them is more entertaining than preaching.
As an introduction to Zadie Smith’s writing, this is as good as it gets. It is a book I would happily recommend to anyone.