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_White Teeth_, Zadie Smith
I've read the first 102 pages. The novel starts with a failed suicide scene in North London in 1975, the attempter of which becomes a main character. This is Samad, a man from Bengal. His friend, Archibald Jones, is English, and recently married a Jamaican 19 year old, despite being 47. Samad and Archie served in WWII together, the flashback scene which I just got done reading.

I've not read Zadie Smith before, but I can remember reading somewhere that one would be made jealous by her writing skill coupled with her real-life looks. I do like her control of prose, because her writing has traces of a journalistic style, a bit of hyperbole, and not too much self-conscious "poetic" sentences. This novel is really well done so far; there's only been a few points where I paused and thought about authorial intention or a lack of clarity.

The dialogue is really strong, which makes up for Smith's uninterest in describing place. Her interest is character. It occurred to me that one could argue that the dialogue of Archie and Samad are too similar, but I don't think so. Samad really does seem to speak with an affected educated Indian British subject voice.

And Smith, like Joan Didion, focuses in on scenes instead of using her authorial control to tell the reader, "Then this happened." The authorial voice is there, but Smith makes real the motto, "Show, don't tell." Dialogue is her strength. And as she depicts scenes, it seems like each one works out to be a short story. Like in a good poem, each vignette finishes with a reflexive idea that allows one to reread the story-within-a-story.

All in all, Smith seems to be a writer "in the pocket," not doing too much, doing just enough, setting out the story but not commanding it. I also like her use of multimedia sources, like advertising copy, letters, billboards, etc. When I read this stuff, I wonder if I'm missing a Joycean level of reference, that only a North Londoner (like Smith) would notice.

The sheer possibility of vision which the novel presents us with! White Teeth is impressive and well done. A taste of one of Smith's thematic strengths, modern hybid identity (via dialogue):
"Blackness. I'm a cripple, Jones." The gun did a marry dance in his good hand as he swung himself from sie to side. "And my faith is crippled, do you understand? I'm fit for nothing now, not even Allah, who is all powerful in his mercy. What am I going to do, after this war is over, this war that is already over--what am I going to do? Go back to Bengal? Or to Delhi? Who would have such an Englishman there? To England? Who would have such an Indian? They promise us independence in exchange for the men we were. But it is a devilish deal. What should I do? Stay here? Go elsewhere? What laboratory needs one-handed men? What am I suited for?"
"What am I going to do?" seems to encapsulate the problem of identity. I could imagine a gay or lesbian youth thinking in those terms, and I remember thinking in similar terms when I was young, shy and insecure. The thing is, there is nothing to be done, contra Lenin (interesting link, you know).

No profanes - sacred
 
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