[Occasionally I’ll be posting here about the books I’m reading, or, as in this case, have just finished. It might be a couple lines, it might be a giant essay – it depends on my mood, my time, and the book. Today, it’ll be shorter, mostly because I’m in a coffeehouse in Boulder and I’m super self-conscious that I’m not typing this on a MacBook Pro. Seriously, there are 12 MacBooks within a 12-foot radius of my table. I’ve got my trusty ChromeBook, and I feel like I’m wearing knockoff Carhartts at a country club banquet. Also, I may or may not be wearing knockoff Carhartts right now too.]
I’d read a few of Zadie Smith’s essays before, but none of her fiction, so when I saw White Teeth for $2 in my local library’s book-sale section, I snagged it immediately. It’s her first novel, published in 2000, and it’s a great read. She tells the story of two families living in London during the second half of the 20th century – one family are Bengali immigrants, and the other consists of a foppy Brit, his much younger Jamaican Jehovah’s Witness wife, and their daughter. Smith’s narrative spans from the end days of World War II to the end days of the 20th century, and her prose is at once rollicking, entertaining, and searing. She has a brilliant way of giving her third-person narrator an empathy with each of her complex, valiantly flawed characters – we see their perspectives, their rationalizations, their messy humanity on every page. And while this book is about many things (immigration, assimilation, genetic manipulation, religious fundamentalism), underlying it all is a deeply hopeful current of humanism, and the power of family and friends to weather the storms of imperfection and stick together.