Author: Zadie Smith
Question: Why is Zadie so freaking beautiful? It’s not even fair. And her whole aesthetic just makes me happy. So does her voice – which is way deeper than I had expected it to be.
Okay. Anyway. The book. But before that, we need to talk about how much fun Salman Rushdie was having in his review (i.e. too much). Take a look at the hard-copy cover of White Teeth, and you’ll notice Salman Rushdie’s commendation ends with “It has bite.” A book called White Teeth has bite! *facepalm* LOL
There is actually so much to say about this book, which can’t possibly be covered by me – at least not now. I’ll have to schedule a rereading sometime in the future because this book is dense. Heavily saturated with so many things. I don’t even want to imagine how long it took to write it.
White Teeth. What is it about? My shallow answer would be “nothing in particular”. My deeper answer would be “multiculture” (the red line in MS Word has told me that this isn’t a word, but I like it and insist it should be so I shall leave it as it is). And really, that’s what I see it as. Nearly every character seems to be a sort of metonymy for their own country, culture or brand of human being, if I may use this self-coined phrase. There are so many different kinds of people in this story, so different that it’s nearly unsettling that they have anything in common at all, even if it’s a physical factor as small as white teeth – whether natural or artificial. (You’ll understand if you read it.)
You all know about my love affair with metaphors, right? Extended metaphors in particular. Well this book had quite a number of them, but the centralized one was definitely, and perhaps predictably about teeth. The elaboration on dental things is so explicit at times and seems rather displaced, making one wonder why on earth the narrator thinks it’s significant enough to be lingered on for so long in a part of the story where it has nothing to do with anything. At times, it’s so implicit that you just might miss it, if the title hadn’t previously been keeping you on your guard for such things.
Given that white teeth was a characteristic that was kind of elevated, it was interesting when, to put it broadly, things to do with teeth were portrayed as second-rate when a character decided that another character was not smart enough to be a research scientist and so should settle for dentistry. Incidentally this “not smart enough” character happened to be a Jamaican-English mix just like the author herself, who has also, in a way taken up a profession (writing) that aimed at giving (fictional) people “white teeth“. But that’s just by the way.
Zadie Smith’s writing is kind of fantastic. I loved the way she merged the possible with the improbable, creating a definite incredibility factor with mad hilarity. On several occasions, I actually laughed out loud. Among other things to showcase this hilarity was a part near the very beginning where a guy was trying to commit suicide on a halal butcher’s property; the butcher’s son very blatantly reporting to his father that the guy said sorry, he’s too busy offing himself to get off the property, and the butcher’s alarmed and outraged reaction, not because he cared about this guy’s life, but because he did not, apparently, have a license for suicide on his property. Mad. (Is my sense of humour weird? Because I described this scene to people and they didn’t crack a smile.)
Zadie’s satirical tone and sarcasm in narration, as well as the satirical characters and their sarcastic tones lend much amusement to the whole story and make it much easier to touch on topics like war, colonialism and racism. She’s talking about serious issues and intentionally (or unintentionally, IDK) ridiculing them disproportionately.
Also, I feel the need to mention that this was the first novel I have ever read that gives the most accurate description ever of the agony of Afro-hair relaxation.
If you asked me to pick a favourite character, I’d be at a loss. White Teeth reminds me of Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings in that just about every bloody character pisses me the hell off, in some way or the other. Either because they are incurably daft or have some irreparable hamartia. But perhaps the funniest character to me was Joyce Chalfen, in terms of her relationship with her son, Oscar. It was a staunch obliviousness that she had, not only in her relationship with him but with everyone else. Joyce could say something like “Oscar loves you.” Oscar would yell, “I hate him!” and Joyce would say triumphantly, “See? He adores you!” And this happened so many times and cracked me up each one.
A few miscellaneous things:
- The ironic presentation of certain characters’ determination to be rooted in their traditional, “root” cultures”, while embracing foreign religions and/or insisting on remaining an immigrant in a foreign country, as opposed to returning to their “root” countries themselves.
- The exaggerated power of words, concerning a couple of pro-Islam extremist leaflets that were able to transform a seriously promiscuous ladies-man into an abhorrer of all the girls – including his own multiple-at-once ones – who dressed like “whores”.
- The convergence between characters, thoughts and events. Often things that had nothing to do with each other seemed to be running on parallel themes and tracks. Also, things that seemed to certainly have nothing to do with each other would suddenly converge with everyone and everything, getting “involved” (a joke you’ll get if you read the book) with everything and everyone else.
- The quest for identity, seeming to belong everywhere and nowhere at once, of a couple of characters, which I could seriously relate with.
Long story short, I’d recommend this book, though I’ve seen rather many wishy-washy and negative reviews about it. I like White Teeth.
Now, to end with a mad cheesy, punny, sort of genius line from the last sentence in the book, I think: “the wicked like, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect.”