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White Teeth

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  138,629 ratings  ·  8,343 reviews
At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published June 12th 2001 by Vintage (first published April 1st 2000)
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Edwin Blair I cannot wrap my head around on how a person who read 'thousands' of books could not grasp its essentials, (which are not new to literature nor life) …moreI cannot wrap my head around on how a person who read 'thousands' of books could not grasp its essentials, (which are not new to literature nor life) presented in this book. I will concede that it was somewhat, of an over-ambitious undertaking for a writer's first novel. But the motifs were there very clearly, early and often. The main theme being CHANGE, freedom from the old outdated beliefs & traditions etc; with the intentions to find one's own identity, by escaping the labels and limitations placed on them through social constructs such as race, religion, social class, and status. The youth wanted to change, and so did the 'damaged' and in opposition, there was the traditionalist, the staunch religious and so on, who failed to see and accept that change is the only inevitable constant. These were all characters of very different backgrounds, of varying religions, and race in a country where it doesn't matter if you were born in it, they will still feel like foreigners and struggle with identity issues because of this leading them to seek change; forms to reinvent themselves to somehow fit in. Zadie Smith is one of these people, being multi-racial in the UK. She possesses an uncanny understanding of human nature and the human psyche which she expresses with humor, wit and refreshing insight. This is why pre-skimming even works of fiction are extremely useful and have always been suggested. You'll gain some understanding and direction of the work, and if you decided to read it, you'll do so with a purpose. And we all know its almost impossible to be bored at, lose focus of anything approached with a sense of purpose and preview of what you are about to engage in.(less)
Chris Keightley if I was forced to read a book like this in high school I would have scratched my eyes out. A bit like I did when I was forced to read the old man and…moreif I was forced to read a book like this in high school I would have scratched my eyes out. A bit like I did when I was forced to read the old man and the sea.

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Average rating 3.79  · 
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 ·  138,629 ratings  ·  8,343 reviews

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May 01, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2007
White Teeth is an expansive, detailed, and beautifully written attempt to encapsulate the social chaos that blossoms at the bridging of generational, national and sexual mindsets. It reminds me very much of the freeflowing histories written by Marquez and Allende, as well as Salman Rushdie's strange little one-off treatise on cultural alienation, Fury. (Samad, in particular, reminds me quite a bit of Fury's Malik Solanka.)

Smith does many things well. She has a serious ear for dialogue and accent
Paul Bryant
Jun 10, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels
One star? Of course this is not a one-star wretched ignominous failure, this is a mighty Dickensian epic about modern Britain. But not for me. It's a question of tone. I have now tried to read this one twice and each time I find I'm groaning quietly and grinding my teeth. Zadie Smith's omniscient narrator, alas for me, has an air of horrible smirkiness, like a friend who just can't help pointing out all the less than pleasant attributes of everyone else, all in the name of life-affirming humour, ...more
Jul 29, 2007 rated it liked it
As many other reviewers have commented, I wanted to like this book more than I did. It approached greatness in many ways---the clever and often hilarious dialogue, the quirky characters, the creative family histories, the rich and convincing place descriptions, and so on. Despite the strengths of each of these parts, as a whole the book fell far short of greatness. It took me until the final pages to figure out what was missing for me: I did not genuinely care about most of the characters. I did ...more
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
“...the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect.”
― Zadie Smith, White Teeth


I planned on writing my full review of this book a couple days after I read it in October of 2014. I was afraid, however, if I wrote it immediately it would be too sappy, too indulgent, too full of praise. I would probably just go on and on and you all might think I was in love or something. So, like I am want, I put the review off -- meaning to get to it -- and here I am finally writing about t
There are parts of this book fully deserving of unadulterated love and veneration, worthy of 4 stars in the least. The fact that the real Indian, Jamaican and Bangladeshi diaspora are reproduced here and not the imagined Indian, Jamaican and Bangladeshi diaspora of white writers too reluctant to put in the requisite amount of research for getting the most inconsequential tidbits right has much to do with it. In addition, Zadie Smith succeeds in keenly evoking their history, language, cultural et ...more
Nov 14, 2007 rated it did not like it
This book started bad for me and just got worse. I found the characters to be boring and two-dimensional. Actually, even worse, the author tried to build up the characters in most cases (though doing a poor job, I'd say), but then later reduced their roles to caricatures. So even those I was inclined to like wound up irritating me every time they opened their mouths.

Further, Smith's style is all over the place. At times I found it indulgent and pretentious, others fawningly resembling other auth
Petra kissed a frog and he turned into a toad
Just because everyone says it's good doesn't make it readable. Just because it has an 'ethnic' plot doesn't make it realistic. Just because it's about ordinary people doesn't make it believeable.

And just because I read it only a couple of months ago doesn't make it memorable.

Three stars because it might have been that good, I've forgotten all but the general gist of the book.
Sean Barrs
The last time I read a book with this much narrative confidence, power and authority was back in January when I tackled Midnight’s Children.

It's rare that a book comes with a voice this strong. Like Rushdie’s novel, Smith creates a present that is pervaded by the past. Her characters are very aware of their ancestry, and they really struggle to reconcile with it in the modern world. Are they Indians? Are they British? Are they black or white? Or are they a little bit of everything? Because of t
Barry Pierce
Oh Zadie Smith be still my beating heart! I devoured this fabulous novel. Smith is truly a master of plot and her ability to capture the voices of each individual character is inspirational. Never before have I read a novel which such a rich and diverse dramatis personae. I fear that this review is going to become a list of superlatives so I'll quell it here by saying, I loved this and I need to read more Smith now. ...more
Jul 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm about a decade late to Zadie Smith's White Teeth, one of those books friends recommended or I picked up at the library then put back and moved on to a different title. My reticence to read the novel revolved around the plethora of book-clubby texts that could best be classified as “somewhat patronizing novels about other cultures featuring triumph in the face of great poverty and hardship.” I hate these books. But White Teeth turns out be an example of where those novels fail and a sun-surfa ...more
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Zadie Smith's prose style here is notably different from her later books. It's like she read all Martin Amis' early novels and to a large extent replicated his distinctive rhythms into her prose. So too is the emphasis on comedy much heavier here than in later books. She's making more effort to charm - which, I suppose, is only natural for a young unpublished author.

White Teeth is full of fabulous insight into the immigrant's experience of England. Zadie Smith has her finger on cultural pulses
There need to be more books like this in the world. Little bit cocky, little bit sharp, written within my lifetime by someone with little to no representation in the halls of esteemed literature by means of race and gender and what have you and does not give a flying fuck about it. The setting may be the well worn island of merry old 20th century England for the most part, but the reality is that of the 21st. Smorgasbord where white men get as proper a representation in the wider plain of realit ...more
Tom Quinn
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
They say life moves fast? No.
It moves mad slow.
Every mountaintop is just a new plateau,
Another mountain on top of that, yo.
Now you're like Sisyphus climbing forever, screaming:
"God's an asshole!"

- Wax, "Continue"

I'm a sucker for the story of a botched suicide...

White Teeth speaks to deep and resonant themes about the universal experiences of life, the questions we all have and the answers we all hope to find. It has left me so steeped in beautiful/quirky prose that I feel inadequate trying to wr
Stephen M
So my computer has been out of commission for the past few weeks and that partly explains my absence from goodreads (insert excuse about being busy, being outdoors in the summer, etc). I recently joined up with all the cool kids and dropped a hundred dollars for an iPhone and I've been trying to make do with the limitations imposed by the less than satisfactory goodreads app which I guess is better than trying to navigate the site through safari on the phone but alas, I digress. Because the reas ...more
Alias Pending
Aug 03, 2013 rated it did not like it
The Short: The only thing this book hates more than its characters is you, the reader.

The long form presentation: Lets boil down the premise and get it out of the way. This book is about nature vs nurture. Don't worry about that theme too much, because this book hates its theme. It can't be bothered to come to a logical or even an irrational conclusion about that theme. It hates its theme nearly as much as it hates you, the reader. Didn't I just say that? Am I being redundant?

Right, there is to
Debbie "DJ"
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, fiction, cultural
The more I think about this book, the more I marvel at what Zadie Smith was able to create through it. I seriously almost didn't make it through this read, and it is only in the looking back that I see just how brilliant it is. Smith starts with two characters, then links character after character to them.

It all starts with two men lost in WWI, having no real role in it, and discover it has ended without their knowledge. They capture a war architect after the war and invent stories in some atte
Dec 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
A perfect book to re-read! This is a very funny book chronicling the lives of immigrants in the United Kingdom and focuses on issues such as children of immigrants forming new, collective identities due to identity crisis, the whole question about who is really English and problems in a multicultural community, such as which religious holidays schools should celebrate and so on. It's a very entertaining read.

Joe Valdez
May 19, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
The Year of Women--in which I'm devoting 2021 to reading female authors only--continues with my introduction to Zadie Smith and her debut novel White Teeth. Published in 2000, this is an acclaimed book I wanted to love and understand most of, in the way I'd love a badge for David Foster Wallace or Salman Rushdie. No book is for everyone, though. By the 10% mark, I had started skimming. By 20%, I surrendered. Smith's talent in language arts is evident opening this book up to any page and blindly ...more
Peter Boyle
Dec 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wow, what a lot to take in! I won't even attempt to summarise this sprawling, densely-plotted novel - suffice to say that it traces the history of two multicultural London families at the tail end of the 20th century. Along the way themes such as race relations, religious extremism, immigration, and even the ethics of genetic engineering are explored, all with an intoxicating energy and a sparkling sense of humour.

The aspect of the book I admired most was its focus on family. Both the Iqbal and
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: have, re-read, lit-british
More (now) than fifteen years ago, when I read this, I thought it was the best contemporary fiction I'd read in ages. Even though I don't remember a whole lot of the story, I'm still in accord with that memory. It's one of the contemporary novels that I can see myself reading again in the future, or at least sampling.

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Previous library review
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bookriot, 2018
I started this book back in September and finishing it in November. Granted I did take a 17 day vacation and set this one aside during that break, but this was a huge struggle for me to get through.

This is a character study, with religious themes and historical references. Two men, who find themselves alone during the war become best friends-- Archibald Jones and Samad Iqbal. Generational in nature and how certain events shaped their lives in the most odd way. Different cultures are introduced,
Phew, I was exhausted after finishing this book.
Faith, race, gender, history, and culture in three North London families are turned upside down, questioned, dissected and turned into a tragic comedy by Zadie Smith.

Samad Iqbal and his wife Alsana, the original Benghali immigrants, who often sort their differences out in some feisty backyard wrestling matches while their two twin sons, Magid and Millat, the second generation immigrants, run haywire in their confusion about being British as their m
May 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
These days, it feels to me like you make a devil's pact when you walk into this country. You hand over your passport at the check-in, you get stamped, you want to make a little money, get yourself started... but you mean to go back! Who would want to stay? Cold, wet, miserable; terrible food, dreadful newspapers - who would want to stay? In a place where you are never welcomed, only tolerated. Just tolerated. Like you are an animal finally house-trained.

Despite everything subsequent in Zadie's m
Apr 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hit me between the eyes and then some! Three families, three cultures over three generations, a saga! The way the past can come back when you least suspect it. Also overall a life-affirming book, not only for humanity but fiction itself. This is the deserving legacy of the great works written before this.
One of the most talked about fictional debuts ever - is spot on!

Wow... This is the amazing debut of Zadie Smith.. .An instant modern classic? The word 'genius' springs to mind. Outstanding. 9.5
MJ Nicholls
The novel that shot Zadie (née Sadie) into the literary stratosphere in 2001. A decade down the line and this is still a dazzling performance. A mordant look at first-generation Bengali immigrants and the next generation's confused Anglicization and alienation. A scalpel-sharp realist novel with teeth sharper than a puma. Plus (near the end) a witty debate on religion v. science. And so much more besides.

Not head-over-heels in love with that ending. Reads more like an intellectual copout than a
I wanted to give this book three stars, and then two stars. If I could give this book zero stars now, I would. I fucking loathed it. I'm sorry, but Zadie Smith is easily one of the three most pretentious writers I've read in the recent past. I literally have nothing more to say to her than that she tries too hard. ...more
If you have been (or your parent has been) an immigrant, White Teeth will probably speak to you. My father was the first member of his family born in Canada. He desperately felt the need to fit in, to be Canadian. As a result, when his parents spoke in Danish at home, he always answered them in English. In later life, he could understand Danish, but not speak it, a situation which was sometimes frustrating when dealing with relatives who only spoke Danish. My grandfather came to Canada first, al ...more
Rating: 3.5

Hilariously complex characters. It's insane to think Zadie was practically my age when she began writing this book. How she pulled off accurately depicting 3 different cultures is beyond me, but she did it with wit and grit.

By no means is the book perfection, but it is wonderful. I assure you, it's unlike anything you've ever read. There is an air of confidence Zadie writes with which I loved. The story overall is funny but it does deal with complex topics such as culture clash, ide
Aug 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Wow, 24? Was Zadie Smith really only 24 when she wrote this? Hats off! "White Teeth" is indeed a well-constructed, in a sense even a kaleidoscopic novel that you would expect from a much more mature author; also the psychological portrayal of the characters is quite impressive, and then there is the list of themes she has integrated in her novel, like the integration/acculturation of immigrants, genetic engineering, the nature versus nurture debate, generational conflicts, the role of chance in ...more
Feb 26, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2021-reads
A past tense, future perfect kind of night.

The first half of this novel was everything I wanted in a book this month. These compelling love stories of couples from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds was beguiling. Plus, the age factor. What reader wouldn't take the chance to peek into the soul of a couple with many years between them, right?

Clara, her energy and humor laced with patois, lured me. And Archie, what is it about the man that makes a reader so curious? I was willing
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Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time, as well as two collections of essays, Changing My Mind and Feel Free. Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. White Teeth won multiple literary awards including the James Ta ...more

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