Author: Zadie Smith
Summary: This was beautifully written and very clever in its engagement with current social issues.
White Teeth is a family saga that follows two very different families as they deal with issues related to faith, immigration, and belonging. “At the center of this [story] are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal… A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith.” (source)
This is the second time I’ve read this book. It’s unusual for me to do a re-read, but I’ve decided to do a deep dive on Zadie Smith and read all of her books in publication order. My reaction was similar this time around, although I did approach the book a bit more thoughtfully. The writing was even better than I remembered. A lot of her word choices do double duty, conveying prosaic plot details and simultaneously making the reader consider deeper issues through symbolism or secondary definitions. She’s a master at humorously, sharply skewering racist, sexist, and/or anti-immigrant sentiments.
Unfortunately, as on my last read, I found the ending a bit of a letdown. Throughout the book, the author explores the idea of roots and how the past influences the present. We follow multiple threads backwards and forwards in time. When they all finally converge at the end, I wanted so much from that moment! Instead, most of the players who have gathered together end up having no role in the last scene. The author also leaves many personal conflicts completely unresolved. I could see the ending working better for someone who doesn’t mind ambiguous endings, but it wasn’t for me.