I’m really late to the White Teeth party.
When it came out in 1999, I wasn’t ready to read a book like this. A colleague leant me the book sometime around 2006 but I never read it then either. But when I had the chance to come up with a list of books that had been on my list forever, thanks to the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge (hosted by Roof Beam Reader), I finally decided that the time had come to actually read this book.
For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that I’m not the last person to read this book and do a little synopsis. Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is the story of the unlikely friendship between Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Archie and Samad were in the same regiment during the end of the war. They got into things just as it was all winding down and aside from one final action, they didn’t have much to do with any of it. Years later they are both settled in the same North London neighbourhood, each married to much younger wives, expecting their first children. The novel is the story of all of their lives.
There is no doubt that Zadie Smith is a talented writer. Not many writers would be able to take on such a massive story – the lives of Archie and Iqbal, their wives Clara and Alsana, and their children, Irie, Millat and Magid. And then those of the Chalfens, a family of 4 boys that get involved with the Jones’ and the Iqbals after a run in with a joint at school. It’s a novel that deals with faith, race, patriotism, the old and new worlds clashing, eugenics – the scope of this book is huge.
Normally I love these kinds of novels. I love stories of generations of families, told within the confines of their time. But it took me a long time to care about White Teeth at all. I didn’t get that rush of joy when I was able to return to the story. I was missing some crucial connection. There were moments where I chuckled, passages that almost had me feel feelings, parts where I was blown away by Smith’s skills.
But overall, this book was just OK for me. I know. I can hear you guys yelling at me. Maybe it was the wrong time for me to read this book, maybe I wasn’t in the right headspace, or the weather was wrong or I forced it by putting it on a list and making it so that I HAD to read it. I don’t really know why this book didn’t send me into a spiral of delight, why it didn’t have me shouting to the world about how much I loved it. I wanted to love it. I just couldn’t.
This one is going to go back to the library for someone else to read and I feel no sorrow at that. I’m not scared off reading anything else Smith has written but I might give it some time…
Anyway, just two books left to complete the challenge! Are you participating? How’s it going for you?