White Teeth

Paperback | February 6, 2001

byZadie Smith

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Zadie Smith's White Teeth is a classic international bestseller and an unforgettable portrait of London One of the most talked about fictional debuts ever, White Teeth is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing - among many other things - with friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, one brown mouse, and the tricky way the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle, it is a life-affirming, riotous must-read of a book. 'Funny, clever ... and a rollicking good read' Independent 'An astonishingly assured début, funny and serious ... I was delighted' Salman Rushdie 'The almost preposterous talent was clear from the first pages' Julian Barnes, Guardian 'Quirky, sassy and wise ... a big, splashy, populous production reminiscent of books by Dickens and Salman Rushdie ... demonstrates both an instinctive storytelling talent and a fully fashioned voice that's street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time' New York Times 'Smith writes like an old hand, and, sometimes, like a dream' New Yorker 'Outstanding ... A strikingly clever and funny book with a passion for ideas, for language and for the rich tragic-comedy of life' Sunday Telegraph 'Do believe the hype' The Times 'Relentlessly funny ... idiosyncratic, and deeply felt' Guardian

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From Our Editors

In the vibrant multicultural city of London, three families from different backgrounds find themselves linked in every conceivable way: personally, politically, historically and genetically. In White Teeth, these three families all attempt to come to terms with the rich ethnic diversity that their North London community offers. At the ...

From the Publisher

Zadie Smith's White Teeth is a classic international bestseller and an unforgettable portrait of London One of the most talked about fictional debuts ever, White Teeth is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing - among many other things - with friendship, love, war, three cultures and three fa...

Zadie Smith was born in north-west London in 1975. She is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty and NW, as well as The Embassy of Cambodia and a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People. Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:480 pages, 7.78 × 5.06 × 1.38 inPublished:February 6, 2001Publisher:Penguin UkLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0140276335

ISBN - 13:9780140276336

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from A slow read, but very good! White Teeth is the debut novel from Zadie Smith, who penned the epic story at the age of 24. At over 500-pages, I’m probably not the first person to admit that it took me more than a few days to finish reading. Have you ever read anything on speed reading? I’ve seen a few articles saying that if you read the first and last sentence of a paragraph, you should be able to get the gist of the entire paragraph, thus allowing you to speed through books. White Teeth is not something you can speed read through. I’d like to see anyone try. Every single sentence in this book is crafted with such precision that it’s hard to skip anything while attacking the pages. This is what made it so slow-going for me. Personally, I wouldn’t want to skip over anything—speed reading or not—is the purpose of reading not to enjoy the comingling of words? Zadie Smith does a beautiful job of doing just that in this sprawling classic. The story is about Archibald Jones, who starts off the novel by attempting suicide. He can’t make a decision without flipping a coin. His friend, Samad, is a Bengali who works as a waiter. They met in the second World War and tell their stories, past and present, throughout the novel. There is humor mixed with sorrow, love mixed with religion, and the journey of two men and their families as they try to make their mark on the world, wading through the social chaos that makes up postcolonial England. Smith’s characters throughout White Teeth are varied, vocal, and make dramatic (and surprising) appearances. It just goes to show that everyone is connected in one way or another. The hilarity that ensues within the novel is at times vulgar, poignant, and real. Right when you’re lost in the humor Smith sprinkles throughout, you can’t help but also think about the issues of loyalty to family and loyalty to the traditions of heritage. Can they both be accomplished in the search to make your own identity? My only qualm with White Teeth is that while there is a story going on, there are no major arcs or climaxes. There was no time during my read that I felt the page-turning urge to find out What Happened? The story is definitely a “drama” of a novel—something you go through to meet the characters and witness their lives, not necessarily to be lost in intrigue and mystery. It might not be for everyone, but White Teeth is a definite must-read. While you may want to push your way through the novel, eager to move onto your next read, adding White Teeth to your pile of classics-read, take your time. Move slowly through the landscapes, dialogue, and characters that Smith created. You don’t want to miss a thing.
Date published: 2012-01-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not Bad At All I had to give this book the benefit of the doubt because quite honestly I had to struggle through the first half of it. The writing however, kept me going and the plot definitely improved past the half-way mark. I really enjoyed the story - it certainly wasn't as side-splitting funny as I thought it might be, but there were also some really great (hilarious) moments. Stick with it - it's worth it!
Date published: 2009-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hilarious Loved this book...it's quirky, fun, full of interesting characters and outrageous situations. I'll admit, it's probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed every page.
Date published: 2008-01-28
Rated out of 5 by from Everything was remembered, nothing was lost: a re-review of Zadie Smith's White Teeth This is a re-write of my previous review of this book, which suffered from inexperience and berevity (and three typos). Smith's work deserved better... so here it is again, bolstered. This is really great reading. It is long, it will take time to go through it all. Your interest will intensify and dimish. That's what Smith is trying to do. She creates a range of moods and interests for the reader. For the most part, her narrative twists and turns in the most amiable way. The characters are carefully crafted and alive with sweat, laughter and tears. Smith provides the details and creates the world; and, she’s ingeniously funny. In some ways the novel reads like a chronicled daydream. It saunters back and forth between characters, places, times, events, and issues; serious, yet playful. The characters are not perfect, most of them aren’t even that likeable but you'll identify with them nonetheless. What I really enjoyed about this engaging novel is its depth and complexity. It deals with people living in a "new world." Either a foreign world of ideas and customs or a changing world in which one cannot keep up. The implications of this disorientation or sinking feeling are brought to a head in a climax that is... you just have to read it! * * * “Getting anything out of my husband is like trying to squeeze water out when you’re stoned” (78). “I don’t know what you are selling – pleas God let it not be encyclopedias – at my age it is not more information one requires but less” (170). “‘Now, will someone,’ said Alsana, looking at Clara, please remind my husband that he is not Mr Manilow and he does not have the songs that make the whole world sing’” (228).
Date published: 2008-01-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I still can't believe this was her very first novel... I had to read this 500-page novel for a 200-level english class, during midterm week. While that should be enough reasons right there for me to hate it, I actually really loved it. It had one of those Borat feels; a bit like, "Omg, is she ALLOWED to say that????". Then there's the fact that I was practically laughing for the entire reading.... that's always a bonus. Anyway, highly recommended.
Date published: 2007-11-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst Book Ever! This book is bad. I cannot figure out why there are such rave reviews about it. The characters are annoying, the plot makes no sense in the end and you will feel as if you wasted your time reading it.
Date published: 2007-11-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from White Teeth Zadie Smith is such a phenomenal writer at such a young age. Do not be intimimdated by the length of this book - you will fly through it pretty fast and be engaged in every moment of each character's experience. The BBC did a pretty great special on this book as well...
Date published: 2006-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing debut! This book does not feel like a first novel! It's extremely well-written, the characters are believable and well developed, and the story meanders in a lovely way.
Date published: 2006-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant A rare contemporary talent. Hilarious, wise and insightful. Perfect.
Date published: 2006-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Smith's wit is outstanding. this book made me chuckle and laugh out loud like no other book has. you won't be able to put this book down. she cleverly weaves in issues of colonialism, cultural purity, diaspora, hybridity, feminism, etc...all with a great sense of humor. the book does a great job of sucking the reader in and feeling invovled in the storyline.
Date published: 2006-05-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from AWESOME! never to be put down I had to read this book for an english project and I thought it would be boring but when I started reading it, I could not put it down. It was pretty addicting. Zadie Snith is a talented writer especially because she wrote about 3 different types of family/generations/ and religions. It was a very good book. I RECOMEND IT TO EVERYONE OF YOU!
Date published: 2005-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Masterpiece An amazing story about three different generations, and three different races. A very humorous story, written by the rare talent, Zadie Smith. A book that you will never want to put down!
Date published: 2002-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceeded all my expectations... It's no wonder Zadie Smith won an award for this book; it's great! How she managed to mix all of those storylines together... and write from the viewpoints of different cultures...
Date published: 2001-11-27

Extra Content

Read from the Book

The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie JonesEarly in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signaling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year's resolution. But even as his breathing became spasmodic and his lights dimmed, Archie was aware that Cricklewood Broadway would seem a strange choice. Strange to the first person to notice his slumped figure through the windscreen, strange to the policemen who would file the report, to the local journalist called upon to write fifty words, to the next of kin who would read them. Squeezed between an almighty concrete cinema complex at one end and a giant intersection at the other, Cricklewood was no kind of place. It was not a place a man came to die. It was a place a man came in order to go other places via the A41. But Archie Jones didn't want to die in some pleasant, distant woodland, or on a cliff edge fringed with delicate heather. The way Archie saw it, country people should die in the country and city people should die in the city. Only proper. In death as he was in life and all that. It made sense that Archibald should die on this nasty urban street where he had ended up, living alone at the age of forty-seven, in a one-bedroom flat above a deserted chip shop. He wasn't the type to make elaborate plans—suicide notes and funeral instructions—he wasn't the type for anything fancy. All he asked for was a bit of silence, a bit of shush so he could concentrate. He wanted it to be perfectly quiet and still, like the inside of an empty confessional box or the moment in the brain between thought and speech. He wanted to do it before the shops opened. Overhead, a gang of the local flying vermin took off from some unseen perch, swooped, and seemed to be zeroing in on Archie's car roof—only to perform, at the last moment, an impressive U-turn, moving as one with the elegance of a curve ball and landing on the Hussein-Ishmael, a celebrated halal butchers. Archie was too far gone to make a big noise about it, but he watched them with a warm internal smile as they deposited their load, streaking white walls purple. He watched them stretch their peering bird heads over the Hussein-Ishmael gutter; he watched them watch the slow and steady draining of blood from the dead things—chickens, cows, sheep—hanging on their hooks like coats around the shop. The Unlucky. These pigeons had an instinct for the Unlucky, and so they passed Archie by. For, though he did not know it, and despite the Hoover tube that lay on the passenger seat pumping from the exhaust pipe into his lungs, luck was with him that morning. The thinnest covering of luck was on him like fresh dew. Whilst he slipped in and out of consciousness, the position of the planets, the music of the spheres, the flap of a tiger-moth's diaphanous wings in Central Africa, and a whole bunch of other stuff that Makes Shit Happen had decided it was second-chance time for Archie. Somewhere, somehow, by somebody, it had been decided that he would live. ~The Hussein-Ishmael was owned by Mo Hussein-Ishmael, a great bull of a man with hair that rose and fell in a quaff, then a ducktail. Mo believed that with pigeons you have to get to the root of the problem: not the excretions but the pigeon itself. The shit is not the shit (this was Mo's mantra); the pigeon is the shit. So the morning of Archie's almost-death began as every morning in the Hussein-Ishmael, with Mo resting his huge belly on the windowsill, leaning out and swinging a meat cleaver in an attempt to halt the flow of dribbling purple. 'Get out of it! Get away, you shit-making bastards! Yes! SIX!' It was cricket, basically—the Englishman's game adapted by the immigrant, and six was the most pigeons you could get at one swipe. 'Varin!' said Mo, calling down to the street, holding the bloodied cleaver up in triumph. 'You're in to bat, my boy. Ready?' Below him on the pavement stood Varin—a massively overweight Hindu boy on misjudged work experience from the school round the corner, looking up like a big dejected blob underneath Mo's question mark. It was Varin's job to struggle up a ladder and gather spliced bits of pigeon into a small Kwik Save carrier bag, tie the bag up, and dispose of it in the bins at the other end of the street. 'Come on, Mr. Fatty-man,' yelled one of Mo's kitchen staff, poking Varin up the arse with a broom as punctuation for each word. 'Get-your-fat-Ganesh-Hindu-backside-up-there-Elephant-Boy-and-bring-some-of-that-mashed-pigeon-stuff-with-you.' Mo wiped the sweat off his forehead, snorted, and looked out over Cricklewood, surveying the discarded armchairs and strips of carpet, outdoor lounges for local drunks; the slot-machine emporiums, the greasy spoons and the minicabs—all covered in shit. One day, so Mo believed, Cricklewood and its residents would have cause to thank him for his daily massacre; one day no man, woman or child in the broadway would ever again have to mix one part detergent to four parts vinegar to clean up the crap that falls on the world. The shit is not the shit, he repeated solemnly, the pigeon is the shit. Mo was the only man in the community who truly understood. He was feeling really very Zen about this—very goodwill-to-all-men—until he spotted Archie's car. 'Arshad!' A shifty-looking skinny guy with a handlebar moustache, dressed in four different shades of brown, came out of the shop, with blood on his palms. 'Arshad!' Mo barely restrained himself, stabbed his finger in the direction of the car. 'My boy, I'm going to ask you just once.' 'Yes, Abba?' said Arshad, shifting from foot to foot. 'What the hell is this? What is this doing here? I got delivery at 6.30. I got fifteen dead bovines turning up here at 6.30. I got to get it in the back. That's my job. You see? There's meat coming. So, I am perplexed—' Mo affected a look of innocent confusion. 'Because I thought this was clearly marked "Delivery Area".' He pointed to an aging wooden crate which bore the legend NO PARKINGS OF ANY VEHICLE ON ANY DAYS. Well?' 'I don't know, Abba.' 'You're my son, Arshad. I don't employ you not to know. I employ him not to know'—he reached out of the window and slapped Varin, who was negotiating the perilous gutter like a tightrope-walker, giving him a thorough cosh to the back of his head and almost knocking the boy off his perch -'I employ you to know things. To compute information. To bring into the light the great darkness of the creator's unexplainable universe.' 'Abba?' 'Find out what it's doing there and get rid of it.' Mo disappeared from the window. A minute later Arshad returned with the explanation. 'Abba.' Mo's head sprang back through the window like a malicious cuckoo from a Swiss clock. 'He's gassing himself, Abba.' 'What?' Arshad shrugged. 'I shouted through the car window and told the guy to move on and he says, "I am gassing myself, leave me alone." Like that.' 'No one gasses himself on my property,' Mo snapped as he marched downstairs. 'We are not licensed.' Once in the street, Mo advanced upon Archie's car, pulled out the towels that were sealing the gap in the driver's window, and pushed it down five inches with brute, bullish force. 'Do you hear that, mister? We're not licensed for suicides around here. This place halal. Kosher, understand? If you're going to die round here, my friend, I'm afraid you've got to be thoroughly bled first.' Archie dragged his head off the steering wheel. And in the moment between focusing on the sweaty bulk of a brown-skinned Elvis and realizing that life was still his, he had a kind of epiphany. It occurred to him that, for the first time since his birth, Life had said Yes to Archie Jones. Not simply an 'OK' or 'You-might-as-well-carry-on-since-you've-started', but a resounding affirmative. Life wanted Archie. She had jealously grabbed him from the jaws of death, back to her bosom. Although he was not one of her better specimens, Life wanted Archie and Archie, much to his own surprise, wanted Life. Frantically, he wound down both his windows and gasped for oxygen from the very depths of his lungs. In between gulps he thanked Mo profusely, tears streaming down his cheeks, his hands clinging on to Mo's apron. 'All right, all right,' said the butcher, freeing himself from Archie's fingers and brushing himself clean, 'move along now. I've got meat coming. I'm in the business of bleeding. Not counseling. You want Lonely Street. This Cricklewood Lane.' Archie, still choking on thank yous, reversed, pulled out from the curb, and turned right. ~Archie Jones attempted suicide because his wife Ophelia, a violet-eyed Italian with a faint moustache, had recently divorced him. But he had not spent New Year's morning gagging on the tube of a vacuum cleaner because he loved her. It was rather because he had lived with her for so long and had not loved her. Archie's marriage felt like buying a pair of shoes, taking them home and finding they don't fit. For the sake of appearances, he put up with them. And then, all of a sudden and after thirty years, the shoes picked themselves up and walked out of the house. She left. Thirty years. As far as he remembered, just like everybody else they began well. The first spring of 1946, he had stumbled out of the darkness of war and into a Florentine coffee house, where he was served by a waitress truly like the sun: Ophelia Diagilo, dressed all in yellow, spreading warmth and the promise of sex as she passed him a frothy cappuccino. They walked into it blinkered as horses. She was not to know that women never stayed as daylight in Archie's life; that somewhere in him he didn't like them, he didn't trust them, and he was able to love them only if they wore haloes. No one told Archie that lurking in the Diagilo family tree were two hysteric aunts, an uncle who talked to aubergines and a cousin who wore his clothes back to front. So they got married and returned to England, where she realized very quickly her mistake, he drove her very quickly mad, and the halo was packed off to the attic to collect dust with the rest of the bric-a-brac and broken kitchen appliances that Archie promised one day to repair. Amongst that bric-a-brac was a Hoover. On Boxing Day morning, six days before he parked outside Mo's halal butchers, Archie had returned to their semi-detached in Hendon in search of that Hoover. It was his fourth trip to the attic in so many days, ferrying out the odds and ends of a marriage to his new flat, and the Hoover was amongst the very last items he reclaimed—one of the most broken things, most ugly things, the things you demand out of sheer bloody-mindedness because you have lost the house. This is what divorce is: taking things you no longer want from people you no longer love. 'So you again,' said the Spanish home-help at the door, Santa-Maria or Maria-Santa or something. 'Meester Jones, what now? Kitchen sink, si?' 'Hoover,' said Archie, grimly. 'Vacuum.' She cut her eyes at him and spat on the doormat inches from his shoes. 'Welcome, senor.' The place had become a haven for people who hated him. Apart from the home-help, he had to contend with Ophelia's extended Italian family, her mental-health nurse, the woman from the council, and of course Ophelia herself, who was to be found in the kernel of this nuthouse, curled up in a foetal ball on the sofa, making lowing sounds into a bottle of Bailey's. It took him an hour and a quarter just to get through enemy lines—and for what? A perverse Hoover, discarded months earlier because it was determined to perform the opposite of every vacuum's objective: spewing out dust instead of sucking it in. 'Meester Jones, why do you come here when it make you so unhappy? Be reasonable. What can you want with it?' The home-help was following him up the attic stairs, armed with some kind of cleaning fluid: 'It's broken. You don't need this. See? See?' She plugged it into a socket and demonstrated the dead switch. Archie took the plug out and silently wound the cord round the Hoover. If it was broken, it was coming with him. All broken things were coming with him. He was going to fix every damn broken thing in this house, if only to show that he was good for something. 'You good for nothing!' Santa whoever chased him back down the stairs. 'Your wife is ill in her head, and this is all you can do!' Archie hugged the Hoover to his chest and took it into the crowded living room, where, under several pairs of reproachful eyes, he got out his toolbox and started work on it. 'Look at him,' said one of the Italian grandmothers, the more glamorous one with the big scarves and fewer moles, 'he take everything, capisce? He take-a her mind, he take-a the blender, he take-a the old stereo—he take-a everything except the floorboards. It make-a you sick. . .' The woman from the council, who even on dry days resembled a long-haired cat soaked to the skin, shook her skinny head in agreement. 'It's disgusting, you don't have to tell me, it's disgusting ... and naturally, we're the ones left to sort out the mess; it's muggins here who has to -' Which was overlapped by the nurse: 'She can't stay here alone, can she ... now he's buggered off, poor woman ... she needs a proper home, she needs . . .' I'm here, Archie felt like saying, I'm right here you know, I'm bloody right here. And it was my blender. But he wasn't one for confrontation, Archie. He listened to them all for another fifteen minutes, mute as he tested the Hoover's suction against pieces of newspaper, until he was overcome by the sensation that Life was an enormous rucksack so impossibly heavy that, even though it meant losing everything, it was infinitely easier to leave all baggage here on the roadside and walk on into the blackness. You don't need the blender, Archie-boy, you don't need the Hoover. This stuff's all dead weight. Just lay down the rucksack, Arch, and join the happy campers in the sky. Was that wrong? To Archie—ex-wife and ex-wife's relatives in one ear, spluttering vacuum in the other—it just seemed that The End was unavoidably nigh. Nothing personal to God or whatever. It just felt like the end of the world. And he was going to need more than poor whisky, novelty crackers and a paltry box of Quality Street—all the strawberry ones already scoffed—to justify entering another annum. Patiently he fixed the Hoover, and vacuumed the living room with a strange methodical finality, shoving the nozzle into the most difficult comers. Solemnly he flipped a coin (heads, life, tails, death) and felt nothing in particular when he found himself staring at the dancing lion. Quietly he detached the Hoover tube, put it in a suitcase, and left the house for the last time.

From Our Editors

In the vibrant multicultural city of London, three families from different backgrounds find themselves linked in every conceivable way: personally, politically, historically and genetically. In White Teeth, these three families all attempt to come to terms with the rich ethnic diversity that their North London community offers. At the center of the novel is the hapless Archibald Jones who can’t seem to make a decision without flipping a coin. And in his chosen city, this proves to be an unlikely advantage as luck is blind to race. This poignant novel is an excellent examination of tolerance and changing attitudes driven by rich characters, taught writing and a bustling city.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for White Teeth"Zadie Smith's fizzing first novel is about how we all got here—from the Caribbean, from the Indian subcontinent, from thirteenth place in a long-ago Olympic bicycle race—and about what "here" turned out to be. It's an astonishingly assured debut, funny and serious, and the voice has real writerly idiosyncrasy. I was delighted by White Teeth and often impressed. It has . . . bite." —Salman Rushdie"A rich, ambitious, and often hilarious delight." —The Independent"This is a strikingly clever and funny book with a passion for ideas, for language, and for the rich tragicomedy of life. . . . [Smith's] characters always ring true; it is her ebullient, simple prose and her generous understanding of human nature that make Zadie Smith's novel outstanding. It is not only great fun to read, but full of hope." —Sunday Telegraph"A writer of mighty potential." —The Times Literary Supplement "Poised and relentlessly funny. . . . A major new talent." —The Guardian"Outstanding... refreshingly upbeat and deserving of all the attention it is getting." —The Evening Standard"Outstanding... not only great fun to read, but full of hope." —The Sunday Telegraph "The biggest literary talent for 2000... One of the most impressive firstnovels of recent years." —The Observer Magazine"Funny, clever... and a rollicking good read." —The Independent"Brilliantly written and hugely inspiring." —RED"A vibrant, multicultural extravaganza." —Marie Claire"The first publishing sensation of the millennium." —The Observer"Darting between decades, cultures and generations, this chronicle of immigrant London fizzes with life." —Good Housekeeping"Gleefully inventive... Zadie Smith's debut announces the debut of a significant new talent." —The List"Bounding, vibrant, richly imagined and thoroughly engaging." —The Telegraph"If you buy one book this year, WHITE TEETH should be it." —Livewire Magazine