Kirstie's Reviews > On Beauty

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
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Jan 09, 2008

really liked it
Recommended for: people interested in: race and youth in America, politics, universities
Read in January, 2008

(3.5 stars)

I don't often feel this way about books but I felt at an inherent disadvantage reading this as a white girl. The main ideas explored have so much to do with race and racial conflicts in particular. Set primarily in Boston, it concerns a marriage between a white professor and a black woman and their kids who struggle to fit into their world. For example, the younger of the two brothers who wants to talk "street" but is ashamed that he lives in an upper middle class area of Boston. The idea is to not be privileged and when he runs into some Haitians, he's even more convinced that he shouldn't be living in his current rich neighborhood. There are questions of beauty too, as the subject suggests both in terms of the wife and mother of the family and a work of Rembrandt's (I've always hated that artist, I have to admit, which made it much more difficult for me to enjoy the book in some sections.)


Besides delving into the politics of Haiti, the book also speaks about affirmative action with two angry professors. The one who opposes the other speaking out on affirmative action doesn't want to tread on democracy but he's torn to say the least. Both arguments-for and against affirmative action are stated and perhaps the most powerful is the one in which suggests that issues of class became more important to politicians like Condi than their race.


You also have alot of immorality from both sides-the Christian right wing and the completely liberal. Affairs abound and it seems poorly written at this point...too stereotypical and uncreative. Predictable. Really, the only person who is without artifice and could be described as beautiful is the professor's wife and the mother of the story who is a feminist to her core even if she's not an intellectual. Despite her weight, she's a rather proud woman who cherishes her children and is forgiving as possible about many things.


Without giving away too much, the book also doesn't really leave you with a definitive ending. Though it's clever the way she it finishes, I felt overall a little disappointed even though it vaguely reminds me of The Crying of Lot 49 in terms of that anticipation. But then again, as I said before I really couldn't care less about Rembrandt. Overall, I was more impressed wth The Autograph Man...still have to finish White Teeth.
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message 3: by Erin (new)

Erin Ooh this one has continually caught my eye at various bookstores, but I have yet to pick it up. I look forward to your review of this.


Kirstie You can borrow it when I'm done! I really liked The Autograph Man and I started reading White Teeth when I was sick in bed with Pertussis but for some reason switched midway through to Murakami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and ended up being consumed by that instead. Anyhow, I am only 100 pages into this one so far. It's interesting but not amazing so far.


Nicole I just finished this too and totally agree with what you said. I thought the racial themes were really interesting but the affairs and the sex scenes really turned me off, I hate graphic sexual descriptions in books that are otherwise literary.


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