‘White Teeth’ is the debut novel by Zadie Smith – and is the first of the many modern classics that I want to read this year! Published in 2000 by Penguin Books, it tells the tales of the Iqbal family, the Jones family, and, in the later sections of the novel, the Chalfen family. Jamaican patois merges with Bangladeshi culture and British cynicism in a book that screams of multiculturalism.
I couldn’t quite believe it when I saw that this is a debut. ‘White Teeth’ is a whopper of a novel, banking in at 542 pages. And, incredibly, I enjoyed every single one. The three families are full of personality – every character has their own hopes, dreams, and fears, and they converge into a huge dysfunctional cast. We follow Archie and Samad from their experiences in the Second World War to New Year’s Eve of 1992 as their families expand, splinter, and come together in a final act of – well, it could be called love. Every character is given a chance to speak, and although the other characters vocalise their judgement, Smith doesn’t (although the authorial voice is wonderfully coy).
The novel speaks frankly about religious fanaticism, history, and the debate between science and religion in genetic mutation. However, that makes it sound boring, which it most definitely isn’t. There is such humour to ‘White Teeth’ – much of it a bit morbid, but that’s what made it appeal to me. Life or death situation? Toss a coin! The characters’ ‘what happens will happen’ approach to life feels so familiar to me – I know these people!
Finally, apparently Channel 4 adapted ‘White Teeth’ into a TV series, which I would love to see. I’m definitely considering doing a post about how well it adapts to the screen – we shall see! For now, I would definitely recommend picking this up, if you haven’t already. This is London, and right now, a little reminder about the amazing multiculturalism of the UK is what we need right now.