Wednesday, November 13

Review: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Critics agree that Zadie Smith's White Teeth is an outstanding début.  Just listen to this review:
'An impressive début, not only for its vitality and verve, but mainly for the sheer audacity of its scope and vision ... an epic tale ... swooping, funny ... it has ambition, wit and is unafraid' 
- Meera Syal, Express
I read this book with my Mum, holding miniature book-club sessions between chapters to discuss it.  I've thought about it so much that I hardly know how to sum it up for you, but I'll do my best.


White Teeth is an epic story that starts small.  It covers so many loaded topics - family, relationships, roots of tradition and religion - all tied masterfully together by the metaphor of teeth.  The narrative spans several decades with the effect of showing the incredible reverberations of each character's thoughts and actions.  


It was only in retrospect - reflecting on the book as a whole with all the puzzle pieces added up - that I was capable of fully appreciating its beauty.  There are slow moments.  There are long chapters.  But everything has purpose.  It's only visible at the end, but everything is deliberate, significant, fateful.  The themes of fate, chance and doom are run both through the narrative and the structure itself, startlingly smart.  

An incredible thing to remind myself though, is that every reader's experience and interpretation of White Teeth will be different.  It's exciting to wonder what it meant to others, because to me, it meant so much.  Moments of clarity and stunning revelations are inherent.  It is a beautiful book for deep thinking and discussion, for gaining insight by delving into one's personal experience of the work.  


'Quirky, sassy and wise' - The New York Times.  I completely agree with this description of Zadie Smith's unique voice.  Often it feels that the narrator has an almost god-like vantage point over all that takes place, from which she reports with slow-cooked warmth and wisdom.  However this tone is punctuated by laugh-out-loud moments of alarming wit.  It's the sort of book that is a joy to pick up, unsuspecting.    

The images are beautifully fresh.  The observations that stab between the events are authentic, so memorable that I know I'll be constantly prompted to reflect on them.  


The characters are all so memorable.  It is confronting yet thrilling to discover that people you loved are played as villains and the ones you didn't care much for at the beginning emerge from the fray as heroes.  Their voices are unique, their inner thoughts so complexly described that they became completely alive.  


White Teeth is memorable for all the right reasons.  It has stimulated so much wonder and reflection in me.  I've spent hours talking with my Mum, enjoying the many threads of its beautifully woven storyline and layers of meaning throughout.  It is sadly sweet, funny in a fresh way, and lingering.  It is impossible to unfurl its tendrils from my heart now that I've finished reading it.  I know the experience of it has already enriched my understanding of the world.  

Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth


  1. I so agree - it is a book that leaves an indelible mark on the reader, inviting alterations to the way one lives their life. Yes, the character studies are amazing. Would like to read more of her - any recommendations?

  2. I'm definitely excited to read more of her work in the future and see how her voice develops. I will probably read 'NW' next, but if you follow the link below you can have a closer look at her Goodreads author profile:


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