Saturday, February 25, 2006

White Teeth: Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith wrote her debut novel, White Teeth, when she was 23. It is utterly brilliant, telling the story of an English-Jamaican family, a Bangladeshi Muslim family, and an utterly English family over a span of 30 years or so.

Zadie Smith's main strength is in her character development: her characters are amazingly well fleshed-out and variegated. The novel could have been shorter by about a third and even more entertaining, but it almost seemed like she had to include a couple of characters and had to give them enough room.

Her other strength lies in describing high-schoolers. Rushdie or anyone else can't even come close to her when she starts describing high-school life in England in the 80s: unbelievably funny and vivid. As a 23-year-old, the experience was obviously still quite fresh for her.

She makes a few goof-ups: she never explains why Hindu Mangal Pandey has a staunchly Muslim great-great-grandson who is utterly devoted to his saga. The novel could have ended a couple of hundred pages sooner, and it would still have worked as well. Her plot development is a bit thin also - I need to check out her newer books to see if that still remains the case.

There is a lot to love about this book: the characters, the milieu, the inter-cultural and intra-cultural humor... Undoubtedly a must-read.

I enjoyed it as an audio-book because the narrator - Jenny Sterlin, I think - was utterly awesome and could do excellent Jamaican, desi and English accents.

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