I have always wanted to read Zadie Smith, given that I have heard so many brilliant things about her from other readers. So last week while I was travelling to Chandigarh for my best friend’s engagement, I picked up White Teeth by Zadie Smith. A story that for me turned out to be a mix of the generation gap and immigrant identity crisis. I have read many books about these two topics, but what was unique in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth was that there was no plot. It was like a constant flow of life of two men who have served in war together, and are now leaning on each other to get through the war of life.
The story of White Teeth begins on the New Year’s 1975. In a stuffed car, an Englishman Archie Jones is trying to commit suicide because his disturbed Italian Wife has walked out of their marriage. A sudden interruption in his suicide plan makes Archie give up the idea of dying. Fresh with enthusiasm, he walks towards an End of the World Party where he meets his second wife, Clara Bowden. A Jamaican whose mother, Hortense is a devout Jehovah’s witness. Archie and Clara’s marriage gives birth to Irie, a girl who has very low self-esteem.
On the other hand, we have Samad, a Bangladeshi immigrant and Archie’s wartime friend, whose great-grandfather was Mangal Pandey, and who has married Alsana, a woman of substance. Alsana bears him two children, Majid and Millat.
Samad, in particular, finds it difficult to maintain his devotion to Islam in an English life; he is continually tormented by what he sees as the effects of this cultural conflict upon his own moral character – his Muslim values are corrupted by his masturbation, drinking, and his affair with his children’s music teacher, Poppy Burt-Jones. In an attempt to preserve his traditional beliefs, he sends 10-year-old Magid to Bangladesh in the hope that he will grow up properly under the teachings of Islam. From then on, the lives of the two boys follow very different paths.
Magid comes back home but in a very different than his father expected him to turn out. Rather than being a devout Muslim, he becomes a rational intellectual, a follower of new age ideas and books. On the other hand, Millat believes in modern age Godfather and finds solace in an extremist outfit. On the other hand, we see Irie trying to deal with her Jamaican genes, which she believes makes her look ugly and a hindrance for Millat to see her real beauty. In the end, she pays a very heavy price for her transformation.
White Teeth is not just a story with a plot, it’s like reading about someone’s life in a single flow, constantly without stopping. For me, it turned out to be a unique book because I’ve never come across such type of writing, where there is no purpose, just a story to share and feel in your heart. A story that is so special that it will always stick with you. And also, out of all the immigrant books that I’ve read, I believe that this one turned out to be the best of the lot.
The writing of the book is simple and easy to understand. I also loved the fact that historical events are also added in the book to elaborate on the generation gap issue like falling of the Berlin Wall, Protests against Salman Rushdie’s book etc. The only issue that a reader may face with the White Teeth would be the length. For some, the no existence of a plot may also become an issue, but for me it was brilliant!
With White Teeth, I’ve found a new author that I am going to tap into a little bit more. My final verdict; a must read.