Tuesday, November 12

The Roots of White Teeth

Before writing my concluding review of Zadie Smith's debut novel White Teeth, I want to share two passages that resonated powerfully with me.  My experience of this book has been an epic journey.  Moments like these are gorgeous and grounding.  
She wore her sexuality with an older woman's ease, and note (as with most of the girls Archie had run with in the past) like an awkward purse, never knowing how to hold it, where to hand it or when to just put it down.  
Zadie Smith.  2000.  White Teeth.  London: Penguin Books.  p 24.

This passage startled me with its modesty and authenticity.  I've seen this, I know what this looks like and I feel that she puts it into words perfectly!  Watch out, White Teeth if full of wit like this.  

*     *     *

This next passage is longer but equally beautiful.  Zadie Smith manages to articulate so many aspects of human relationships.  This struck me as something both sad and enchanting.   
But Archie did not pluck Clara Bowden from a vacuum.  And it's about time people told the truth about beautiful women.  They do not shimmer down staircases.  They do not descend, as was supposed, from on high, attached to nothing other than wings.  Clara was from somewhere.  She had roots.  More specifically, she was from Lambeth (via Jamaica) and she was connected, through tacit adolescent agreement, to one Ryan Topps.  Because before Clara was beautiful she was ugly.  And before there was Clara and Archie there was Clara and Ryan.  And there is no getting away from Ryan Topps.  Just as a good historian need recognise Hitler's Napoleonic ambitions in the east in order to comprehend his reluctance to invade the British in the west, so Ryan Topps is essential to any understanding of why Clara did what she did.  Ryan is indispensable.  There was Clara and Ryan for eight months before Clara and Archie were drawn together from opposite ends of a staircase.  And Clara might never have run into the arms of Archie Jones if she hadn't been running, quite as fast as she could, away from Ryan Topps.
Zadie Smith.  2000.  White Teeth.  London: Penguin Books.  p 27.  

In so few words, she summarises such complex ideas.  I was surprised to hear her put them in a way that was so true to me.  In particular, the image of people having roots, affecting every aspect of their lives including how they choose to start afresh.  

It often worries me thinking about the lives of other people - how what they've experienced affects my ability to relate to them personally and vice versa.  But I wonder if it relates to the idea of everyone being the sum of all the people they've met and the things they've seen and done.  In which case, do people run to me because of that?  And then I empathise and connect to them the best I can through my own well of experience and understanding.  Wow, a bit deep, but I think White Teeth has prompted me to start articulating some things I've been thinking about recently.  Oh well.  

Anyway, expect my concluding review on White Teeth tomorrow!  After that, I have grand plans to begin reading Tim Winton's Cloudstreet.  

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