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White Teeth by Zadie Smith: A Top 100 Book

One of the Top 100 books on the PBS Great American Read is White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Published in 2001 when the British writer was just 24 years old, I am reading it now for the first time. This 65-year-old woman is transfixed, blown away by the sheer force of her writing, her dazzling voice—and her ability to mimic the voices of London on the page— and the amazing epic story which spans the latter half of the 20th century. 

About the book:
At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. 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. Set against London’ s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.

The novel was adapted for the screen as a four episode series starring Om Puri as Samad with Archie Panjabi as his fierce and feisty wife Alsana. Naomi Harris is Clara, the bucktoothed beauty married to Samad’s friend, Archie (Phil Davis). Their daughter Irie (Sarah Ozeke) is in love with Samad and Alsana’s son Magid (Christopher Sampson) who also plays his twin Malit. James McAvoy appears as their friend Josh, son of the meddling and entitled white folks, Marcus and Joyce. 

 It's hard for me to imagine this sprawling 485 page book being whittled down to fit the four episode format, and from what I can tell, you’d be hardpressed to find it on any of the streaming services. But let me know if you do, I’d be curious to see it. 

In 1970s England, cultures start to mix and cross with different experiences. Archie is contemplating suicide until he meets Clara, who is fleeing an oppressive Jehovah's Witness mother. Meanwhile, Samad has arrived in England to meet with his old war-friend Archie and to complete his arranged marriage. The two couples have different experiences of multicultural Britain and this differs from their children as the story follows the two generations across the years.

I hope you'll read the book, it is such a remarkable achievement. Smith’s ear for the myriad London voices is spot on, and what she says about the state of our diverse world is definitely worth reading right now.

Here, how Smith writes about Irie and Millat:

“And this belief in her ugliness, in her wrongness, has subdued her;she kept her smart-ass comments to herself these days, she kept her right hand on her stomach. She was all wrong.  
Whereas Millat was like youth remembered in the nostalgic eyeglass of old age, beauty parodying itself: broken Roman nose, tall, thin; lightly veined smoothly muscled; chocolate eyes with a reflective green sheen like moonlight bouncing off a dark sea; irresistible smile, big white teeth. In Glenard Oak Comprehensive, Black, Pakistani, Greek, Irish-these were races. But those with sex appeal lapped the other runners. They were a species all their own.” 
Have you read White Teeth? Where does it sit on your own list of favorite books?