Yeah..so , Book review : White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Borrowed the book from Shane last year? Or early this year? Never really gotten around to read it. But the book came recommended by a fellow Attic Bookclub member, Maria. And Shane had it ...so...yeah, I say, I'm going to read it.....and that was more than 6 months ago.
Its a thick book...542 pages in paperback. The bad thing is....the book is probably printed in font size 8...very tiny...
The title itself....doesn't tell what story it might be. There's no synopsis anywhere in the book....just comments from the papers (New York Times, Guardian, Observer and etc), and some commentary from Salman Rushdie.
Honestly, looking at the cover, and the title of the book, I wouldn't have pick it up. But if you look at the cover closely, it says "Funny, Clever...and A ROLLICKING GOOD READ" . The only plus point, its published by Penguin....and I've always like books published by Penguin, especially English (as in UK) authors.
The story opens with Archibald Jones, known as Archie for short....trying to kill himself. He should be in his early 40's by then (1975), with a failing marriage....and find that there's no meaning in life.....in modern context, I'll say he's suffering midlife crisis.....Yup..so he tried to kill himself...suffocating inside his car outside the neighbourhood butcher. Of course, Zadie Smith (ZS) did not kill off a character in the first chapter itself....else, this will be quite a tragic story to read.....Archie was saved by the butcher....
Suddenly, he was glad that he's alive....I supposed he felt like being born again. Wandering around the neighbourhood, he walked into a commune and bump into his wife-to-be (2nd wife in the near future), Clara..... Clara is a black immigrant child, brought up in UK....with an immigrant mother that's a stout believer/follower of Jehovah (sounds like some kind of cult to me.....the people in Jehovah, will predict when's the end of the world...do worshipping and stuff).
That's the opening....
From Archie and Clara, ZSmith brings in Samad, his buddy during World War II. Samad is a Bangladeshi soldier, servicing the Queen to fight in WWII (I supposed during the British occupation in India/Bangladesh, Bangladeshi's are considered subjects of the Queen? and they are considered to be fighting for England). The alliance is formed......and Archie and Samad ended up staying in the same neighbourhood after the war.
The story is weaved in and out of the past and future. Bringing in the children of Archie and Clara (yup, they got married, and Archie became a father at 40++) - Irie, and children of Samad and Alsana- Magid and Millat.
Its a difficult book to read (in my point of view), unless you feel strongly about the issues being projected by ZSmith. Note, i say issues....and yup, I personally think ZSmith put in too much issues in the book, for one to digest.......but its brilliant that she manage to set the scene, from WWII to the 1970's, people with different cultures and belief....and weave it all into a story.
After the suicide episode, Archie is all about finding life again....finding a reason to live. Clara knock him out....apparently with her come-hither look. I don't understand how, but ZSmith painted Clara as a buck-tooth Jamaican, lanky, with thick curly hair. They start a family, had a kid and name her Irie. Archie is not a key character in the first 3/4 of the book. He's sort of supporting character to bring out the life of the other characters.
Worthy mentioned about Archie, is that during the WWII, Samad and him stumble upon a French Scientist, supposedly with medical knowledge that'll help the Nazi in genocide...... they held the scientist in capture......and one night, Samad dared Archie to kill the Scientist. Being a pushover, Archie tried...and tried....to kill the Scientist....all Samad heard was a gunshot....and Archie came back with a limp leg, bleeding from a gash from the bullet and reported to Samad, that the Scientist is dead. That chapter was closed until later.
Throughout the whole story, Archie is pictured as a pushover....with not much opinions from him.
The Jamaican with a history. Her mom, is a strict Jehovah believer, and being so, Clara's childhood is filled with pagan beliefs and restriction. Non-believer are considered unworthy.
Eventually, Clara rebelled in her teens, ran off with a guy, also an outcast in school like Clara. Funny thing is, when the guy met Clara's mom, he soon became a convert and embraces Jehovah, which leads to the break-up with Clara. It was then, when Clara met Archie...and they got married and had a kid, Irie. Not much significance in the story, except when it comes to her rift with her mom on religion.
A proud Muslim. He intends for his sons (twins) Magid and Millat to be strong devout. The story includes an excerpt where he questions his own devotion to his religion, when he's attracted to his son's teacher and started an affair....and also, drinking beer. In short, he lived in despair....because modernisation in terms of beliefs and thoughts had changed his sons thinking.
Rebellious. Preferred to adopt a westernised lifestyle and thinking.....described to be dangerously good looking. Turned into a devout of a Brotherhood for Islam.......and tried to assassinate Marcus (a character that come in late in the story....a rich professor who take in Magid and Irie, as part of a school program ).
An academic, pro-British law student. Samad sent him back to Bangladesh so that he can have the traditional upbringing, hoping that Millat will turn out to be a "true" Muslim. But Millat became an academician and prefer the logic of science and technology. He managed to get a visa to move back to Britain, with the help of Marcus (who was awe by his intellectual), and together with Marcus, they work together in the feel of genetics and cloning.......much to Samad's dislike.
Childhood friend to Magid (Millat was sent back to Pakistan when he's a kid). Had liked Magid since a child, but being fat, awkward, and with the same buck teeth and big hair, she was not what society will consider as beautiful. Well, it wasn't very clear.... but somewhere along the way, she had a moment of Ugly Duckling turning into a Swan....not a very remarkable change, but it get her noticed, by others. Magid continue to have his strings of gf's...........
The finale : The ending is hanging......we are not sure what happened to all the character...but from what I understand is, Marcus and Millat had held a forum to introduce their discovery in genetics and cloning, and being a strong devout of the Brotherhood of Islam, which does not agree with the meddling of humanity (cloning a life is considered God's job), Magid was assigned to kill Marcus. Somehow, Archie came into the picture...saved the day, by taking another bullet.....and while he bled and waiting to be rescue....he caught a look at Marcus....and ZSmith brought the readers back to 1945, to the scene when Archie was supposed to kill the French scientist. Here, it was revealed that Archie did not kill the scientist.......ya, and it ended like tat.
I supposed, it means that Marcus = French Scientist?
Along the way, there's a lot of writing on the emotions and relationship. How Samad adapt to the Anglican way of life in Britain, working with meagre pay in a restaurant owned by his cousin, struggling to support his family, and despite all the cultural differences, remained friends with Archie. And the wives of Samad and Archie, Alsana and Clara. How Alsana play the role of a Muslim wife, and yet being a fiery lil lady, rebelling now and then against her husband's backward beliefs, and how Clara settle with living with Archie, dealing with her demons with her mother, worrying that Irie will be influences by the teaching of Jehovah.
Its like a book that opens the culture of the English, Muslims, and New Age (its set in the 1970's and New Age is referring to activist for animal rights and science), and how all these characters from different generations, different culture, different religion and different thinking...blend together as a story : That's White Teeth.