#newworldnovel is a feature in which we get people to tell us which book they’d choose if they had to get up and leave earth today and go to a brand new world empty of all our literature. Would they be selfish and choose something to comfort themselves or would they choose something to help whatever may live or come to live in this new world?
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
White Teeth is a fast paced, feel-good, laugh-out-loud jamboree. It is perfect for a jaunt to a foreign planet, as it lands its characters in an alien new world. In White Teeth, this ‘new world’ is North London. Zadie Smith wrote her award winning first novel whilst studying English Literature at Cambridge. Yes, I know, she wrote what was described by literary heavyweight Salman Rushdie as ‘an astonishingly assured debut’, whilst somehow holding down a degree. Why can’t we all be that perfect?
Zadie’s book (I like to think that we’re on first name terms) follows the stories of two unlikely friends in London: Samad and Archie. Samad is a Muslim who struggles to keep his devout faith in check whilst navigating the culture of his new city. Harvest festivals, his unruly teenage sons and his feisty wife Alsana all encroach on his piety. Archie, Samad’s friend from their time together in the war, is in a new marriage with one-time Jehovah’s Witness Clara. Constantly flipping coins, he is so weak willed that he allows chance to decide his fate.
The characters of Zadie’s debut are as richly drawn and varied as the metropolis that they inhabit. Their lives are a raucous mess of identities and ideologies that interweave and clash at every generation. As the plot entwines the families of Samad and Archie ever closer together, the characters become increasingly outlandish and hilarious. Whether its Abdul-Mickey, the Muslim owner of the Irish pub frequented by the aging friends, or Joyce Chalfen, an interfering tree-hugger who features on Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time, every Londoner of this book is both completely relatable but also highly amusing and satirical.
What makes this novel so uniquely suited to time stranded in a foreign world is its humour. If I’m alone without any peppermint tea or Colin Firth’s lake scene in Pride and Prejudice, I’ll definitely need a good laugh. More than this, White Teeth is relentlessly optimistic. Despite the bitter family rows and conflicts, there remains a promise in Zadie’s work that things will turn out all right on the night. It’s a joyous read, whether you’re floating into the galactic abyss or you’re lying in the Meadows on a freakishly sunny afternoon in February. And who doesn’t want a little joy in their life?
Connie McKimm is studying English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. She enjoys chai lattes, Sunday afternoons and taking on the patriarchy.
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