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283
3.4 out of 5 stars
White Teeth
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 27 April 2001
Amid all the hype- and counter-hype....the precocity of the author, accusations of 'emperor's new clothes'etc I was expecting this book to be kind of irritating. And to my amazement it wasn't irritating at all, in fact it was completely and utterly lovable. Most of the criticisms I have read seem fair - the rather too artificially constructed plot, inaccuracies or linguistic anachronisms, characters who are sometimes difficult to care for about... However, this didn't interfere with my enjoyment of this brilliant book. The observation is so original, the satire so spot-on, and above all the book has a real warmth: Smith actually seems to like her characters and to enjoy being in their company, something which sets her apart from writers like Rushdie or Kureishi who she is often compared to. The result is, of course, that the reader enjoys it too. There is a good joke on nearly every page, which is quite an achievement for a 540 page novel. Highly recommended.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2012
I think the people giving this one star are very harsh. There are some dreadful books out there and this isn't dreadful by any stretch of the imagination. It's a funny book and, despite its ambitious scope, a pretty readable one at that. I just found it a bit pointless in the end though. The characters, with the exception of Irie, are just too one-dimensional for me and there's barely anything likeable about any of them either. Perhaps you could argue this reflects reality but it just made me stop caring about the book about 150 pages before the end. Therein lies another problem - it's just too long to keep you interested once it becomes obvious that the novel isn't really going anywhere. For a first novel it's a great effort and there is much to recommend about it (the aforementioned ambition and the humour) but it never quite manages to live up to the hype. It took me about 10 years to get around to reading it and I don't really feel like I was missing out on that much.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 January 2005
This massive first novel is both wildly ambitious and desperately in need of the hand of an assured editor. Smith certainly isn't afraid to stir such minor topics as race, colonialism, class, gender, culture, religion, fate, sexuality, history and science into her melting pot examination of identity, and as such, it's one of those books whose plot cannot be succinctly outlined. In the broadest possible terms, the book revolves around Archie and Samad, an Englishman and Bangladeshi respectively, who are in the same tank unit in World War II. After spending a goodly chunk of time on their wartime experience, the book covers both the next 45 years of their lives (lengthy stops are made in the late '60s, '70s, and '80s), and with the past (flashbacks are made to mid-19th century India and Jamaica). The true protagonists are Archie's daughter Irie, and Samad's twin sons, Millat and Majid. And the central theme of the book is their struggle for identity, which is sometimes unconscious and sometimes very purposeful.
One of the book's main flaws is that in addition to these five major characters, there are the mothers of each, and a veritable wagonload of important supporting characters, including a third family that appears well into the book. There's a lot of coming and going and coming, and on and on as characters assume central importance for ten pages, only to disappear for two-hundred. Smith is trying to weave a very complicated web (many critics call this aspect of the book "Dickensian"), but in doing so, the transitions become awfully jarring, and very often, annoying. A second major issue is that the characters are all types of one sort or another. Smith sets them in motion in order to comment on her grab-bag of issues, but never quite gives them enough individuality or humanity. The good thing is that she does manage to create a unique voice for each . Like Martin Amis, she's has an excellent ear for the rhythms of conversation and the specific vernaculars of both time and group. Similarly, she likes to play with language in a way that is both refreshing and assured.
On the whole, I liked this book-albeit grudgingly. Smith has taken a kind of "throw everything except the kitchen sink at the wall and see what sticks" approach, leaving no major issue unturned in her attempt to leave her mark on the reader. This means that a lot of the threads never lead anywhere, and thus the overall effect is not as strong as she might have intended. A good editor might have been able to pare some elements back a bit, allowing others to blossom more. Similarly, an editor ought to have helped with some of the many inaccuracies that crop up (two random examples: some of the portrayal of the Jehovah's Witnesses is factually incorrect, as are some of the details of Ryan's scooter). Still, as a portrait of multicultural London over the years and how the concept of "being British" has evolved in that time, it works quite well. And its questions about identity and belonging are applicable to immigrants coming to any Western country. The book was made into a 4-hour BBC miniseries, which has still never been released on video in the US.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
When reviewing this book (or any other) it is best to look first at the `aims and claims' of the author. If the writer's stated aim had been - or if she had claimed that she had achieved - a penetrative insight into the human soul, then White Teeth would be considered a failure. If, however, the aim and claim had been a rumbustious, Dickensian take on multicultural London, then the objective has certainly been achieved. After all, Zadie Smith describes herself as a comic novelist.
A lot of the criticism of this book has really been criticism of the hype, for which the author cannot be blamed. In terms of the text, I would describe it as organic rather than messy and the lack of editing makes it more honest and endearing. This was a first (published) novel from a very young woman and is a mildly satirical but basically warm-hearted approach to a favourite subject of more downbeat social realist authors and playwrights. White Teeth is not perhaps great literature, parts are contrived, and undoubtedly Zadie was overly ambitious, but it sticks in the mind and stimulates discussion, and that is positive.
The most important achievement of Zadie Smith with White Teeth was to project an alternative and unpalatable reality for some: that multiculturalism, in the main, works rather well and that people from different backgrounds, in general, get on. I lived in a directly comparable `troubled' inner city suburb for fifty years until 2003 and, sadly for the idealistically opposed among us, have to report that the overwhelming majority of individuals and families are interested only in peaceful co-existence. If they weren't, London would be a bloodbath - and it isn't.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 2 July 2003
The start of white teeth is undoubtedly a slow one and very disappointing it was as when you get passed all that its an unputadownable. The book is about three families living in north London growing up over the long years going through difficult phases. The main theme is athnic identity (or maybe confusion) while the parents worry that their grand children to come will not even know their past culture and their true identity while the children are more interested in youth subculture, fags and sex. There are many laugh out loud sections and jokes in this book which is the one thing that makes it a good read, another has to be the in depth thinking and writing that goes into phrases and even words, this makes you think this is absurd! It goes on and on which makes you think its rediculous which again comes back to the humerous side of it.I love the sociological point of view Smith has and continues throughout the book. In my opinion the near end of the book is a bit of a disappointment as i seemed to get lost in what was actually going on, i could imagine what was happening before but not at the end, i was hoping it would be more of an exciting ending that made me think, what happens next? But instead Smith chooses to go back a lot of years and it almost seems like that the story is starting over again, picking off where it stopped at the beginning chapter which i don't think was particularly necessary. But i would advise anyone to read this book as it is a funny one and its gives an insight i think of London culture
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 June 2003
I read autograph man 1st - great book, i really enjoyed it. Zadie writes beautifully, with such insight into the human condition and with metaphors that stun. White Teeth is almost a brilliant book but the plot and characters decline in the 2nd half. The focus on key characters switched midway with no good reason (she is trying to portray the lives of a group of people rather than concentrate on a single character) so their potential failed to ripen. The ending feels tired and rushed. Perhaps the editor decided the book was too long so condensed the ending!?! I still recommend it as a good read though. Zadie interweaves ideas, sets a mood and describes moments beautifully. Her metaphors kick butt big time. I found Autograph Man to be a better book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2001
When I started to read this tale of multi-cultural relationships I found it incisive, sharp and well written. By the time I'd finished it was overlong, frustrating and lacking. To me the book would have benefited greatly by being 150 pages shorter. By intertwining several different cultures into one storyline the author provides a sometimes witty and perceptive view. Unfortunately the biggest disappointment for me is the opportunities that were missed, firstly in developing the relationship between the estranged twins and secondly in the suspended animation of the drinking club that the two older men visited regularly. I was hoping to see both these subjects developed in more depth. What I got was a rather bloated tale of dysfunctional family life.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2001
The publicity machine for this book must have been good because I found myself buying it at the airport because somehow it had penetrated my subconscious. Unfortunately it was a disappointment to me. I think the characters try too hard to be funny and really were not that believable. There was little evocation of the era (especially the opening chapter- 1975)and try as I might I felt no real 'bond' with the characters. Having said that it is well written and a spirited attempt to present a racially integrated society. Martin Knight's Common People and Andrea Ashworth's Once in a House on Fire offer better and more entertaining insights into 1970s and 1980s working class life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2012
As I said when I reviewed On Beauty, I was glad I hadn't yet read White Teeth so I didn't have to make the comparison. I was quite disappointed with this book. Zadie Smith had seemed to me to be a writer who researches and doesn't just write the first thing that comes into her head and hope that the reader won't notice. So I was horrified when one of the characters in the book was often quoted as using the phrase 'I and I.' I and I is a term used by Rastas to denote unity and oneness. It is often used instead of saying 'we' or 'you and I.' The character in the book was a Jehovah's witness. It may be that ZS realised her mistake because her second work was much more realistic and factual. White Teeth, however, was hard to stay with. The infighting and backbiting was real enough. However, the relentless oppression of Irie, her constant effort to impress someone who didn't care a fig about her and the subsequent dire consequence was abit too much to bear.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I found this a bit boring, but kept ploughing on; then every so often I would explode with frustration - this didn't happen in 1975, or whenever. By the time I met the third family, I decided to look at the reviews, and as it seems the ending is weak, I won't carry on. Some reviews made reference to the lack of research, but no-one detailed it; I suspect that there is another 500 page book to be written, entitled 'Inaccuracies in White Teeth'...
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