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On Beauty

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  35,383 ratings  ·  3,085 reviews
Howard Belsey is an Englishman abroad, an academic teaching in Wellington, a college town in New England. Married young, thirty years later he is struggling to revive his love for his African American wife Kiki. Meanwhile, his three teenage children— Jerome, Zora and Levi—are each seeking the passions, ideals and commitments that will guide them through their own lives.

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Paperback, 445 pages
Published August 29th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Aubrey
When I say I am not a people person, I mean I can find five reasons to hate someone, anyone, within ten minutes of meeting them in real life. As consequence of this and the desire to not let overwhelming anger ruin my life, I am always putting myself in the other's place, years of which have both calmed me down and sharpened my analysis to the quick. However much I initially dislike you, I will always, always, always respect you, and if you're not a complete and utter asshole and/or hypocrite wh ...more
Kinga
Before we talk about Zadie Smith, let’s talk about me first. Here issomething you should know – I was a serious book-worm up until I turned 16 (more or less) at which point I lost all interest in anything that wasn’t parties, boys, alcohol, drugs or sex. There, I said it. For the next five years my brain didn’t see much action (I somehow managed to finish high school and got accepted into the University of Warsaw but generally I found education a big distraction to my social life). I was about 2 ...more
Audrey
Oct 06, 2007 Audrey rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The people who recommended it to me?
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
MJ Nicholls

This is a book full of unbeautiful people: obnoxious teenagers, philandering academics, stuffy professors, right-on street rappers, wispy rich kids and more obnoxious teenagers. Zadie takes a scalpel to Anglo-American academic relations, probing away at the race/class issues with her usual mordant unflinching cruelty and compassion. She plants a series of depth charges in the lives of her wibbling characters, watching them each explode in turn into quivering heaps of gloopy suet. As ever, the ri
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Sally
I think On Beauty is brilliant. I loved the extra layer of meaning that my reading of E.M. Forster's Howards End provided -- but I don't think it's necessary to do background reading to enjoy this novel. The characters are "messy," as Zadie Smith would say -- most of them make a lot of mistakes, but, for the most part, you love them, or sympathize with them for all of their deficiencies. It's a book with many layers, which is just the kind of fiction I love the most!

Zadie Smith has experience in
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oriana
I was deeply displeased with this book. I can't believe I actually finished it; I liked neither the characters nor the language nor the style. I only read it because I got it for free (found it on the street in a pile of other middling titles), but though that excuses my starting it, it does not at all excuse my slogging through, stubbornly determined, all the way to the end. The truth is this: I was too lazy to figure out what to read next, which is incredibly idiotic, so I deserved what I got. ...more
Jennifer
While I did not absolutely hate this book, I really disliked it from the beginning and kept reading in hopes it would redeem itself. Alas, it did not. In fact, there really isn't many redeeming qualities in the story or the characters whatsoever. The book was written with some style, but as far as the storyline and the characters go, the book should have been called On Destruction...which is, as it seems to me to be, where every character was bent on going in their own oblivion. I did not have a ...more
Emma
I would probably give this book three and a half stars, which is not an option here. I thought it was well-written and had many interesting, memorable scenes, but the book did not really feel like a cohesive whole. The story follows an interracial family in an academic setting. The father is a white art history professor at a private liberal arts college in a fictional suburb of Boston; his wife is a black southern woman and they have three kids.
The title "On Beauty" comes from a poem, which is
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Alicia
I heard so many rave reviews of Zadie Smith. But all were recommendations for her book White Teeth. I wanted to throw this disappointing book against the wall. The characters were stock and predictable. The liberal art history professor. The self-righteous college student. The woman poet. The “uncle tom” Black academic. The strong Black woman. And so on and so on. None of their actions were surprising. So many characters, so many missed opportunities to illustrate race relations. Needless to say ...more
Bette BookAddict
Mar 21, 2014 Bette BookAddict rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Recommended to Bette BookAddict by: GR


Alive is the word which springs to mind about this novel. It is a glorious, page-turning, rip-snorter of a tale through the lives of a white British college professor, Howard Belsey who's married to a black American, their three near-adult children and Howard's nemesis – Monty Kipps.

My favorite part is Howard's reaction while listening to the glee club singers at the formal college dinner; uproariously funny and totally priceless!

This is a novel where I would love to read a prequel and a sequel
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C.
Sep 23, 2008 C. rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to C. by: 1001
Zadie Smith's book On Beauty is about two families on opposing sides of the culture war: The atheist, liberal Belseys on one side and the ultra-religious, ultra-conservative Kipps' on the other. It's also about race and racial identity: black versus white and the influx of poor Haitian immigrants into Boston. It's about Howard Belsey's affair with an old friend of the family and his wife Kiki's attempts to deal with it. It's about Kiki's developing friendship with Carlene Kipps, the wife of her ...more
Lavande
Aaargh. I didn't want to like this book. I tried hard not to like it but there is no escaping that fact that as precocious as she is, Zadie Smith is a damn fine writer. It's a family drama but there aren’t omnipotent judgments or proselytizing about the book’s larger issues of race, love, and elitism.
An interracial couple struggles through the middle years of their marriage and the awkward social integration of their mixed children. Smith’s portrayal of a relationship falling apart is nothing ne
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Alys
Deliciously brutal take on how class, race and gender are actually dealt with in the society of academia. Excellent stuff if you're into that sort of thing. At any rate, Smith again makes good on her gift for making the reader feel tenderly towards her reliably flawed protagonists.
christa
About a month ago I stumbled on a sidewalk sale where, between cheese curd vendors, a 5-year-old magician with a stunning vocabulary and hippies juggling sticks, I found some castoffs from the public library: $1 for trade paper; $0.50 for mass market. I was in a rush. There was an Italian sausage calling my name half a block away. ("Meat me. Meat me.") But I like books. And typically I spend 25 times more for them than what the library was asking. So I deferred to my nemesis "thrift," and I dove ...more
Addie
Nov 02, 2007 Addie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
just as my idealized fantasies about academic life were getting a little out of control, the characters in this book come along to make me realize academics can be just as gross as lawyers at times. i also realize i have never read a book about a professor-family before.

in the middle of the book, i told someone that i didn't like any of the characters (except for levi, who is amazing), yet i liked the book - which speaks well for the author. by the end, i liked the characters more. the black ch
...more
Madeline
I try to summarize this book for people, and I find that I really can't do it. The story, when you try to outline it, seems much too short to be stretched out across 443 pages. Here is my best attempt at summary:

The story takes place mostly at a fictional East Coast college in the US, although some of the story happens in London. There are two feuding families of academia, but the only pair that even slightly resembles Romeo and Juliet are the two mothers. The book is about race, poetry, art, Ha
...more
CJ
i loved, loved white teeth. i did not like on beauty. i'm afraid zadie smith wasn't able to capture american-speak very well. kiki has southern roots and, at times, she supposedly "went florida" in her speech and mannerism, but this was something smith simply stated rather than demonstrated. i could excuse levi's not entirey successful attempts at urban dialogue given his suburban/academic family background, but not carl's. maybe i'm extra critical b/c, in a past life, i spent some time in the s ...more
Shovelmonkey1
Feb 06, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone reading the 1001 books list
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
When I first started reading this book I immediately started comparing it to White Teeth and my first thoughts were that I wouldn't enjoy this book as much. Turns out I was wrong about that! I found this story very absorbing and really grew to enjoy the characters and their individual views of life in Wellington. I particularly liked the character of Kiki for she, above all others in this book seemed genuinely at one with herself. The teenagers, Jerome, Zora and Levi all face their own struggles ...more
Akiva
May 27, 2010 Akiva added it
On Beauty is, according to the author, an homage to Howards End and I made a point of reading that before this. I'm not sure it was a good idea. Not that one was necessarily better than the other, but the contrast placed On Beauty's flaws in relief. Howards End was carefully put together and tightly plotted. I didn't get that impression from On Beauty. It's momentum exhausted, it just sort of stopped. All the characters are so wrapped up in their own neuroses that you feel them more as caricatur ...more
Carolyn Francis
By the end of this book I just wanted to hang out with Zadie Smith in a bar and talk about politics and men and religion over dirty martinis. She is devastatingly witty and articulate and insightful. At its core On Beauty is a homage to E. M. Forster’s Howards End, with the bare branches of its plot uprooted and replanted on the East Coast of the US where a mixed race family, the Belsey’s, live out their personal and professional sagas. In the midst of a highly comic novel Zadie Smith manages to ...more
Simona
Leggere questo libro è stata una piacevole scoperta, anche se mi ha lasciato con molti punti interrogativi.
Alla base di questo romanzo, 2 famiglie agli antipodi, diversissime le cui vite e storie finiranno per intrecciarsi. Da una parte i Belsey, progressisti e atei che non festeggiano nemmeno il Natale, dall'altra il conservatorismo dei Kipps.Due famiglie che si scontrano, che vivono, ragionano in modo diverso, dando luogo a una vera e propria lotta di classe.
In questo romanzo si parla di qua
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Erik Simon
Such a wonderfully spacious novel: large enough to have just about everything but never feeling cluttered. Nowhere did I bump into a misplaced character or the sharp jut of an unattractive sentence. It had warmth, wit, weight, and still managed to retain an airy insouiciance. It's the kind of novel that reminded me why I got into this whole reading business in the first place.
John Lee
Something I haven't been able to say often enough these days is "I feel like a better person after reading this book." There have been many books, especially recently, that made me feel very strongly and made me reflect on those feelings in a way I found cathartic, if not necessarily pleasant. This book, however, really did make me feel like I was a slightly (slightly) better person. It also made me feel lots of shame about not being aware of the issues it discusses in any meaningful way, but th ...more
Neva
Из архивите - рецензия за в. "Гласове".

За хубавите хора
"За красотата", Зейди Смит, прев. Невена Дишлиева-Кръстева, "Прозорец", 2008 г.

"...Тя наричаше розата роза. За него розата бе съвкупност от културни и биологични конструкции, кръжащи около взаимно привличащите се полюси по оста природа-изкуство..."

Беше много странно, че Зейди Смит още не е излизала на български; изглежда закономерно, че я откри такова внимателно към добрата англоезична проза издателство като "Прозорец"; получи се отлично, че
...more
Haley
"Write what you know" is a well worn cliché, but the best writing in this book deals with topics close to the author's experience. I found the perspectives on race in a racially and culturally mixed household interesting, and felt they were handled with the loving care of one who knows this experience intimately. Many descriptions of human interaction also ring true in a powerful way, particularly involving the character of Kiki. But I did not think this book was truly great. While there were pa ...more
Devin Wallace
It's odd that after completing this book and enjoying it, the more I let it ruminate in my mind, the worse I realized it was. On the surface, it's a compelling portrait of two unique families thrust together in a typical setting for literature: northeastern academia. The dialogue is crisp and fresh, the characters seem vibrant, and the plots weave in and out of each other enough to cover up the deep misgivings on Smith's novel.

After finishing, I realized I didn't know any of the characters. I f
...more
Debbie
This a really great book. You have to read Zadie Smith because she is an extremely talented writer. The way she paints more than a physical picture but a mental picture. The reader is taken for a closer almost spiritual look into the make up of the characters. By the end of the book you feel as though you know what makes these people tick. As an author she is so intricate with her characters. Her descriptive creativity also seems almost limitless. The reader is not bored by repetitive adjectives ...more
Kelly
May 24, 2007 Kelly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lit geeks
Shelves: fiction, 21st-century
This book is narcissistic on some level. A study of a family on a New England college campus, a literary, academic father with variously disinterested children and a wife and lovers. Literary people writing about their own kind has the potential to be self-indulgent, but I don't really find this book so. Or if it is, it only makes the characters more real.

I think for reading this book it is helpful to have read "Howard's End," or even just see the movie. I think the satire is much more funny whe
...more
Talia
Zadie Smith makes a literary comeback with On Beauty, an ode to EM Forster's Howard's End. Like her first novel, White Teeth, Smith examines the complex lives of two families - the Belseys and the Kipps - battling it out in the fictionalized college town of Wellington. Howard Belsey is a liberal Rembrandt scholar who is on the brink of tearing his family apart after having an affair with a fellow professor. His long suffering wife, the lovable Kiki, tries to keep together the sanity of her three ...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
The impulse to gush inarticulately about this book is very overwhelming, but to do so simply to get it out of my system is to do it an injustice.

The second impulse I have is to try to revisit my University years and invoke the language of all those fuddy-duddy critical theorists (or, to go easier on my own poor brain, my professors) in order to disect a book about academia. This is much easier to resist, as the more difficult path of the two, though I do want to say right now that, like most of
...more
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2522
Zadie Smith (born Sadie Smith October 27, 1975) is an English novelist. To date she has written four novels, and is widely regarded as one of England's most talented young authors; in 2003, she was included on Granta's list of 20 best young authors.

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zadie_Smith

More about Zadie Smith...
White Teeth NW The Autograph Man Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays The Book of Other People

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“The greatest lie ever told about love is that it sets you free.” 263 likes
“Right. I look fine. Except I don't,' said Zora, tugging sadly at her man's nightshirt. This was why Kiki had dreaded having girls: she knew she wouldn't be able to protect them from self-disgust. To that end she had tried banning television in the early years, and never had a lipstick or a woman's magazine crossed the threshold of the Belsey home to Kiki's knowledge, but these and other precautionary measures had made no difference. It was in the air, or so it seemed to Kiki, this hatred of women and their bodies-- it seeped in with every draught in the house; people brought it home on their shoes, they breathed it in off their newspapers. There was no way to control it.” 133 likes
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