Zähne zeigen By Zadie Smith



Incroci culturali, meticciato…

Non so come mai a distanza di quasi vent’anni dall’apparizione di questo esordio letterario ho avvertito il bisogno di affrontarlo: cos’è che mi ha spinto a prenderlo in mano ora mi sfugge.
Però adesso mi è molto chiaro come mai non l’ho fatto prima.

E non credo che lo rifarò: ritengo che la mia personale conoscenza di Zadie Smith si possa fermare qui, va bene così a entrambi, funziona meglio così sia per me che per lei. Lei ha tanti lettori e riconoscimenti e apprezzamenti, non necessita di averne uno in più. E io so che lei non è my cup of tea: so che pur apprezzandola, non la godo, non mi diverto a leggerla.

In queste pagine ho trovato talento e scrittura sapiente, semplice ma elaborata allo stesso tempo: che a 24/25 anni Zadie Smith fosse già in grado di scrivere così mi spiega come mai sin da subito è stata cliente del padre (madre) di tutti gli agenti, Andrew Wylie (uno che si definisce sciacallo, e che rappresenta anche Bob Dylan).

Quello che ho trovato, e non ho apprezzato, e mi ha rallentato la lettura rendendola faticosa e non particolarmente gradita, è l’eccesso di storie e di storytelling, che si traduce in un eccesso di lunghezza (tante, troppe pagine).
È l’impressione che ogni rivolo narrativo possa trasformarsi in fiume, o generare altri mille rivoli, il cerchio sembra non chiudersi mai. E nel frattempo, si affastellano fatti e storie, ma i personaggi non sviluppano, non crescono.

Il cast inglese dell’adattamento teatrale.

È la ricerca insistita martellante del comico più che dell’ironico.
È la rappresentazione di personaggi che più che caratteri sono caricature.
È un generale senso di eccesso, di esagerazione, di mancanza di misura, che spinge Smith a cercare il paradosso (eccentrico?) e forse perfino il grottesco.
È una generale assenza, per me, di verità, di realtà, Smith trasforma in un’entità iper-reale anche un hamburger.
La sensazione insistita d’essere all’interno di un fumetto senza disegni.

E credo che molto di questa scarsa attrazione per la sua letteratura e della mia frustrazione si spiega anche dalle dichiarazioni che Smith ama rilasciare, per esempio quando dice che non è compito dello scrittore, quindi certo non il suo, quello di dire al lettore come qualcuno sente e reagisce a qualcosa, ma piuttosto il compito di uno scrittore è spiegare come funziona il mondo.

Un momento della commedia.

Un critico inglese che ho cominciato ad apprezzare e seguire quando è stato ‘adottato’ in USA, cioè quando s’è trasferito a vivere e lavorare oltre oceano passando dal Guardian e dal New Republic al New Yorker, James Wood, definisce la letteratura di Zadie Smith e di alcuni suoi colleghi (Rushdie, DeLillo, Pynchon, Foster Wallace) ‘realismo isterico’.
E il suo pezzo dedicato a questo romanzo è intitolato “Umano, tutto troppo non umano”.
Mi sembra che colga in pieno il mio sentire.

Hardcover 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, allegedly, but gradually wearing you down. Didn't anyone get sick of this apart from me? I hear this kind of humour in current British comedy all the time. When it's cranked up to the max and runs at 200 miles an hour, it's great, as in the recent political satire movie In the Loop (recommended) but when it's on a low leisurely level, as in a big sprawling novel, it just gets on my wick. It might be a symptom of the cultural cringe I discuss a propos The Age of Elegance - British writers can no longer take their country and culture that seriously, they feel somehow that it's just not very cool and so their default attitude is self-deprecation. You don't get this in big novels about modern America - American Pastoral, We Were the Mulvaneys and The Corrections and Freedom spring to mind. Franzen, for instance, uses humour all the time and excoriates large areas of American society, but there's no perpetual undermining of his own characters for the sake of inexpensive laughs.
My head says I should like White Teeth but my heart says Zadie Smith was a literary ad-man's dream come true.
For a good, funny book about multicultural Britain, see The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi.
For a great review of White Teeth which eloquently puts the case against, whilst trying not to, see Ben's review here

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/.... Hardcover 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, she knows how to manage the flow and pacing of a story, and she's quite skilled at employing large concepts (genetic manipulation, immigrant psychology, the concept of history itself) both as fact and as metaphor. Her cast of characters is varied and nearly every one of them comes off as a fully flesh and blood human being. However, it's in terms of these personalities that I feel she makes her biggest misstep.

Zadie Smith is what I'd call an Ironist. I don't mean this in the Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Jon Stewart sense. I don't mean that she's a comedian. I mean it in the sense that the territory she stands on--that her narrator in White Teeth stands on--is one whose boundaries are staked out in terms of what she is not. My friend Brandon commented below that Smith shows blatant contempt for every character except the one who is clearly based on the author. While I understand where he's coming from, I don't think it's contempt per se. On the contrary, I think Smith has deep feelings for most of her characters--even the more despicable ones like Crispin and Millat. I think that what Brandon interprets as contempt is something far more ambiguous: let's call it detached superiority.

The Ironist defines herself through the process of over-defining others. Every character in this novel is over-defined, over-drawn. While this provides us with a great, at times excruciating level of detail, it also paints each of them into a kind of cage wherein all of their actions are predictable. Each of them has a sort of final vocabulary (cf. Rorty) that defines the limits of what they might do or say--the doctrines of Islam and the Watchtower Society, of PETA or clinical science. In the worst cases, their adherence to these vocabularies allows Smith to slip them into easy types (see: Mr. Topps, Crispin, Joshua, Marcus, the various members of FATE). Smith creates her authorial/narrative identity--what's called a metastable personality--by passively proving that she is not limited by such a final vocabulary, and that in escaping their confines she has a broader, more comprehensive view of the social workings of the world. This is, generally speaking, the goal of any omniscient narrator, but the way that Smith goes about writing this one in particular imparts a certain sense of smugness (the parenthetical asides to the reader, the knowing winks, the jokes at the expense of easy targets) that isn't always present.

The metastable personality is the natural reaction to uncomfortability with final vocabularies, but it itself is of course just as self-defining as any of them (albeit in the opposite direction). It instinctually yearns for instability, but prefers to admire chaos from afar rather than living in it. The metastable personality knows that in order to maintain coherence it must remain stable, and that the only way to remain stable is to balance itself on the disbelief of all known final vocabularies. Smith writes off worldview after worldview, but is of course unable to articulate her own because her own is simply the absence of adherence to any such worldview.

This isn't so much a criticism of Smith's work as it is an explanation of why it is the way it is, and why it can be read as contempt. Hardcover “...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 the book almost two years after I first read it. I don't know if the delay points more towards my sometimes best laid plans falling and failing, or my anal need to complete the circle and check things off lists.

Seriously, the book was fantastic. I loved it. It was a big, hairy, kinky, ambitious first novel and Zadie Smith pulled it off. I'm not sure why I'm reading so many novels (McTeague) concerned with dentistry and teeth lately. A bit weird. Anyway, enough!

I'm glad I waited, however, because Zadie Smith seems to posses for England that same fresh breath that Lin-Manuel Miranda exhibits with his musical Hamilton. Sometimes, a place is best described by immigrants to that place. Sometimes, the change that happens to a city or nation because of immigrants is hard to measure in the first couple years. Just look at London now. London has elected its first Muslim mayor. This has more to do with some of the huge demographic changes than with a super-multiculturalism in London, but it still isn't nothing.

I remember reading a short article in the Guardian a while back that pointed out that in regards to Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh, “the three groups share many areas in common, but the Punjabi Sikhs in Southall and southeast London, the Gujarati Hindus in northwest London, and the Bengali Muslims in Tower Hamlets stand out most of all.” (The Guardian). I loved realizing the London of Pepys, Dickens and Shakespeare was now a completely different place. It was a place where the colonized were becoming the colonizers. It was a giant geography of Karma, and not in a bad way. We often never fully grasp the bad and the good and the unintended of our decisions and policies. I'm pretty damn sure Queen Victoria and those who advised her and followed her -- NEVER saw this coming as they began the British Raj.

I love how 'White Teeth' swirls and dances and dervishes with ideas of race, identity, and religious antagonism. The book is a fiction, of course, but the competition between ethnicities, even while the white majority loses their shit is not fiction. Even though 'White Teeth' debuted as the 21st century was dawning, it painted a fictionalized but very real novel about the struggles America, England, and Europe are going through right now. Think of Europe and America's reaction to Muslim refugees, the hostility of the right to Barack Obama citizenship and race, the fear that drives the radical right agendas from Hungary to Norway as Western Europe and Western Civilization loses (gradually) their majority lock on political and demographic power. When the mayor of London and the President of the United States of America wouldn't have been allowed to eat in the same high-brow London and New York clubs as presidents and mayors did 60-years-ago, it is kinda amazing to see how far we've come. However, it is also humbling when you read blogs, comments, and hell, just watch Trump on Fox News. There is a certain shaded infinity of how far we still need to go.

Anyway, back to 'White Teeth'. The brilliance of this book is Zadie Smith addresses all of this with humor, beauty and narrative magic. She avoids the twin traps of triviality and preachiness. She spins a fascinating yarn that entertains while pushing the reader to grapple with the realities that were faced by Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal in 1945, and the realities we faced when Obama was elected, and the problems we all currently face.

Fundamentally, I believe, things become a lot simpler when we can view people as individuals. Viewing Zadie Smith as an individual it is easy to see her brilliance, her potential, and her ability from her first book to play with the big boys of English fiction. The future is already here and Zadie Smith is just waiting for history and the rest of us to catch up. Hardcover 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 not feel sympathy for them, or root for them, or have my own ideas of how I hoped things would turn out.

This is likely due to the many, many story lines at play in the novel (story lines that span a hundred years in some cases). But it still felt unacceptable to me that the book begins with one of the most intimate moments a person can experience (though it is treated with humor) and closes with an equally major event in the life of that same character, yet we hardly KNOW this character. He is a central presence on page one and the final page, but he is lost in between. While I laughed at Joyce Chalfen, Alsana, Abdul-Mickey, Magid, Hortense, and a dozen more amusing and creative characters, I felt no emotional connection to them at all. The biggest disappointment perhaps was the disappearance of Clara's voice from the pages. They remained, though entertaining, very flat to me. The only character I sincerely rooted for and felt drawn to was Irie Jones. Her story alone, though it does not emerge until the second half of the book, made the novel worth reading to me.

I was intrigued enough by Zadie Smith's writing to give her other works a try, but I closed the book last night with a definite sense of a letdown. Hardcover

Zähne zeigen, monumental im Ausmaß und intim im Ansatz, ist ein ehrgeiziger Roman. Seine Themen drehen sich um Herkunft, Religion, Geschlechterbeziehungen, Hautfarbe, gesellschaftliche Stellung und Geschichte, aber Zadie Smith ist mit einem Witz und einem Einfallsreichtum gesegnet, die diese gewichtigen Ideen mühelos leicht erscheinen lassen.

Die Handlung führt uns nach Jamaika, die Türkei, Bangladesch und Indien und bringt uns schließlich in einen schäbigen Vorort von North London, in dem die zwei merkwürdigen Helden dieses Buches zu Hause sind: Archie Jones, der es mit der Wahrheit nicht so genau nimmt, und Samad Iqbal, der im hohen Maße dem Alkohol zuspricht. Sie begegneten sich erstmals im Zweiten Weltkrieg als Mitglieder eines vom Pech verfolgten Bataillons und sind seitdem unzertrennlich. Archie heiratet die schöne Clara mit den vorstehenden Zähnen, die sich auf der Flucht vor ihrer Mutter befindet, einer Zeugin Jehovas, und mit der er eine Tochter hat, Irie. Samad heiratet die pampige Alsana, die ihm zwei stramme Jungs schenkt -- Zwillinge: Kinder mit Vor- und Zunamen, die sich auf direktem Kollisionskurs befinden; Namen, hinter denen sich Massenexodus, überfüllte Boote und Flugzeuge, unfreundliche Ankünfte und ärztliche Untersuchungen verbergen.

Große Fragen verlangen nach kühn gezeichneten Charakteren. Zadie Smiths Helden sind nicht heroisch; sie sind einfach echt: warmherzig, komisch, fehlgeleitet und absolut vertraut. Wenn man ihre Unterhaltungen liest, kommt man sich vor, als würde man sie heimlich belauschen. In einer ganz einfachen Szene unterhalten sich Alsana und Clara im Park über ihre Schwangerschaften: Eine Frau muss ihre privaten Dinge haben -- ein Ehemann sollte sich nicht in die körperlichen Angelegenheiten einmischen, in den Intimbereich einer Frau.

Samad ist verärgert über seine Söhne: Sie sind beide vom Weg abgekommen; so weit weg von dem, was ich für sie geplant hatte. Es gibt wohl keinen Zweifel, dass sie beide irgendwann weiße Frauen heiraten werden, die Sheila heißen, und mich früh unter die Erde bringen. Hier spiegeln sich die Ängste des Einwanderers -- Identitätsverlust, Auflösung -- deutlich wider, die Samad mehr als alles andere geprägt haben.

Die Lektüre von Zähne zeigen ist eine wahre Freude. In diesem Buch wimmelt es vor Leben und Überschwänglichkeit, und doch besitzt es genug Schläue und despektierliche Seriosität, um ihm eine gewisse Bissigkeit zu geben. --Eithne Farry

Zähne zeigen


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 authors, and the style would sometimes change abruptly from one paragraph to the next.

I find what what often at least partially redeems books like this is an interesting plot. Not so in White Teeth! There's no real story arc to hold the book together. The plot kind of twisted along for a while and I couldn't really tell where it was going. Then it ends in this bizarre attempt to draw all of the characters and threads together which totally fails as a climax. I would have been more irritated about this particular point but I was so happy I was done with the book, I was inclined to forgive it more than was deserved.

I truly don't understand what all the hype was over this book. There is lots I can forgive especially in a first novel, but there wasn't nearly enough here to convince me that Smith is a great writer who just needs some time to come into her own. There were a few interesting ideas and notions, but they were isolated and swamped by a thousand other boring ones, not to mention cliches, unclever witticisms, and tired plot devices.

I could go on, but I rather forget I ever read this! Gah!
Hardcover 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. Hardcover Un formidabile romanzo d’esordio che descrive la società multiculturale contemporanea con quello che James Wood ha chiamato “realismo isterico”: la prosa caleidoscopica, esagerata ed esilarante si contrappone all’estrema minuzia e alla concretezza con cui si espongono i fatti storici, i nomi dei quartieri di Londra, la complessità del contesto socio-politico e culturale.

Queste 554 pagine ci fanno viaggiare nel tempo e nello spazio: si inizia a metà degli anni 70 per poi risalire ancora più indietro, alla Seconda Guerra Mondiale, ci catapulta poi negli anni 80 e infine una corsa impazzita fino agli anni 90. Ambientato in una Londra globalizzata, affollato crocevia di mille destini, perfetta per un romanzo globale che fa ribollire il suo melting pot narrativo.
Inglesi, giamaicani, bengalesi. Proletari, sottoproletari, borghesi. Adolescenti, adulti, vecchi. Uomini, donne, topi del futuro. Atei, fondamentalisti religiosi, testimoni di Geova, musulmani, animalisti. Un continuo scontro e una continua compenetrazione tra credenze opposte, tra culture diverse, tra idee inconciliabili. Gli esseri umani di Zadie Smith crescono come i denti all’interno della nostra bocca: costretti a stare vicini in uno spazio limitato, non tutti vengono su dritti e in fila, alcuni prendono posizioni diverse, altri saranno inevitabilmente storti. I denti sono come i figli, lo sviluppo è imprevedibile. Soprattutto quando – come i protagonisti di questo romanzo multigenerazionale – si ritrovano in un conflitto identitario perenne tra l’etnia della loro famiglia d’origine e la cultura della società “acquisita” in cui sono nati e cresciuti.

Attraverso la satira, Zadie Smith racconta, come nei migliori romanzi di Franzen, l’arrovellarsi interiore di padri e figli, di madri e figlie, divisi tra la tradizione e il desiderio di cambiare, tra ciò che è giusto e morale e ciò che corrompe lo spirito. Chi ha paura di perdersi, prova a ritornare alle sue radici. Chi non ha mai capito nemmeno quali fossero le sue radici, prova ad adattarsi, mimetizzandosi al caos della contemporaneità. Altri, fanno resistenza, negano tutto ciò che è diverso da loro e si arroccano in posizioni estreme. Altri ancora, semplicemente, diventano qualcun altro. Questo continuo incontro e scontro tra classi sociali e posizioni economiche diverse, tra colti e incolti, tra parenti e amici, tra famiglie ereditate e famiglie acquisite, tra scienza e fede, tra determinismo e casualità, tutto questo fiume in piena miracolosamente – nonostante un finale tremolante e la quantità di temi portati in tavola – riesce a trovare un equilibrio perfetto e a regalarci un banchetto sontuoso.

La prosa di Zadie Smith è una caramella che si scioglie in bocca e fa esplodere una cuccagna di sapori. L’ibridazione stilistica di Denti bianchi fa sfilare davanti al lettore, capitolo dopo capitolo, la caricatura satirica accanto al dramma, il genere della saga familiare con quello meta-storico, fino alla fantascienza. La scelta di macedonizzare il romanzo per temi e stile è il prodotto della lettura di certi maestri postmodernisti. In primis, Salman Rushdie. Sia per un certo gusto nel raccontare la storia dell’India, che fa capolino tra le pagine di Denti bianchi, ma soprattutto per l’uso vivacissimo delle digressioni, della lingua mescolata e per l’ironia funambolica. C’è anche qualcosa di Pynchon nell’uso umoristico delle sigle e degli acronimi (KEVIN e FATE). Ma soprattutto c’è la voce grintosa di Zadie Smith che pungola, commuove, azzarda.

È per merito di questa voce irresistibile da Sirena per cui le perdoniamo le troppe turbolenze narrative e le molte decisioni no-sense di personaggi mutevoli che portano la trama su un livello iperbolico nei capitoli finali. Ti perdoniamo, Zadie. Perché ti amiamo.
Hardcover Hit me between the eyes and then some! A saga about three families from three different cultures over three generations. It's primarily about the way that the past can come back when you least suspect it. Also overall it is a life-affirming book, not only for humanity but for fiction itself. This is the deserving legacy of the great works written before this.
The ~one of the most talked about fictional debuts ever review quotes - is spot on!

Just wow. This is the amazing debut of Zadie Smith, and for me it is an instant modern classic. The word 'genius' springs to mind. Outstanding. A very strong Four star 9.5 out of 12 read. Sorry, but I had to drop this GIF for a review of White Teeth :)

2010 read Hardcover 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 ethos, the stench of their festering old wounds inflicted by an undo-able past, and their bizarre hypocrisies making the leap across land and oceanic borders into alien territory, exempted from being dissected by the scalpel of 'western reason' in the name of minority rights.

There's the undeniable truth of centuries of conditioned servility, hatred of the power which established the ground rules of the abusive relationship called colonialism, and the unfathomable responsibility of bearing the burden of yesterday.

[] they can't help but reenaact the dash they once made from one land to another, from one faith to another, from one brown mother country in to the pale, freckled arms of an imperial sovereign.

There's the Bengaliness of the family to be religiously guarded against the sallies of Western liberalism; imminent dilution of the much treasured Bengali DNA in the gene pool staved off at all costs. And there's war to be waged on foreign territory - for another inch of land, another notch up on the dignity scale, for yet another step of the socioeconomic ladder. Whenever stung by the prick of casual racism, whenever thwarted, they will go back to their institutionalized tendencies of seeing things in black and white and studiously avoiding mentions of a gray area; they won't think twice before disregarding their favorite Gandhiji's famed 'An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.' They will seek out the greener pastures of first world optimism but resist synthesis, tugging at the roots of old grudges again and again so that the present and the now can be drawn and quartered on the altar of history.
And then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly this thing, this belonging, it seems like some long, dirty lie...and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident.

But then there are the 'just-roll-with-it' parts which deserve no more than 2 stars - the cocksure and smug tone in which the narrator recounts this multi-generational saga of families caught in the chaos of modern day materialism vs heritage, the unrealistic, often two-dimensional characterization and the zany Britcom feel to the episodes which warrants a suspension of disbelief and gives rise to the nagging suspicion that this was written with the idea of a film or tv series adaptation in mind.

As much as Smith's light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek, clever mockery of roots and righteous reliance on said roots for existential validation is absolutely legitimate and spot-on, it is awfully disingenuous to think roots can and should be so easily discarded. Assimilation requires time and the immigration conundrum will never be felt as acutely by second generation immigrants (like Smith herself) as by their progenitors. This is where I prefer Jhumpa Lahiri's narrative voice (her later works) over Smith's - no inflection of moral and intellectual superiority, no pronouncing of judgement on flawed choices but a restrained attempt at humanizing all characters.

Since the 4-star and 2-star ratings are equally bona fide in my eyes, a 3-star it is. More so because I can't remember the last time a woman writer of contemporary literary fiction made me laugh so hard. Hardcover