Kitchen window with pumpkin
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Zadie Smith, White Teeth (Random House, 2000).
Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal served together in the British Army in World War II; both then started families in North London. Archie married a Jamaican, escaped from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they have a daughter, Irie. Samad, a Bangladeshi, marries Alsana, who mothers twin sons, Millat and Magid. Smith’s novel is the story of the two families, picked up in the 1970s and carried forward. Smith paints a panorama, not a snapshot, and she has thought about race, class, sex, and other Big Issues, though she writes with a light touch. Call it an immigrant novel or a postcolonial novel if you will. The action ranges from Jamaica to Bengal, but always revolves around North London.

Here is Smith’s bio on Wikipedia. Maria Russo (Salon) profiles Smith. The publisher posts this interview and this excerpt. PBS posts this interview. Here’s an interview with Kathleen O’Grady of Concordia in Montreal. Or listen to this interview on NPR. At The Believer, Smith talked with Ian McEwan. Liam Sullivan calls it epic and ambitious but flawed. Bonnie (BlogCritics) calls it a whirlwind exploration of immigration and multiculturalism. Dan Schneider says it’s a horrendously bad book. Another who didn’t like it is lurgee. Travis Mamone says it lives up to the hype. Eithne Farry, a Jehovah’s Witness, says it has undeniable bite. Ben Welch (Flak Magazine) calls a thick, sweeping novel in the grand tradition of the epic (there’s that word again). Daneet Steffens (Entertainment Weekly) calls it a comic, canny, sprawling tale. Bob Graham (San Francisco Chronicle) wonders what the title means. Amy likes how Smith uses imagery of teeth. Maria Russo (Salon) says Smith’s London is a place that makes you marvel. Eileen Frost says it’s perfectly wonderful and often funny. Hari Kunzru talks about Willesden, where the novel is set. Nat JM says the novel breathes London. James Johnson read it in Haiti. Horace Jeffrey Hodges passes along an anecdote about the possible inspiration for Iqbal. Here is Google BookSearch on a reader guide by Claire Squires. And, finally, Laila Lalami says no one needs another review of it.

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