Like many precocious English majors, Zadie Smith began writing a novel during her senior year in college. But in her case, the novel was not only published, but went on to become an international bestseller, earning her comparisons to Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy.
Epic in scale and intimate in approach, White Teeth (2000) navigates issues of race, gender, history, and culture in the eccentric lives of several Londoners. “Zadie Smith’s debut novel is, like the London it portrays, a restless hybrid of voices, tones and textures,” wrote The New York Times Book Review. “Smith holds it all together with a raucous energy and confidence that couldn’t be a fluke.”
Born in 1976, the daughter of a Jamaican mother and British father, Smith grew up in North London. She graduated from Cambridge University in 1997. White Teeth won the Whitbread Award for a First Novel, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Black Memorial Prize for Fiction; it was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Orange Prize. Currently, Smith is studying at Harvard University. Her second novel, The Autograph Man, is due out in October 2002.
Excerpt from White Teeth (2000)
Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signaling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year’s resolution.
But even as his breathing became spasmodic and his lights dimmed, Archie was aware that Cricklewood Broadway would seem a strange choice. Strange to the first person to notice his slumped figure through the windscreen, strange to the policemen who would file the report, to the local journalist called upon to write fifty words, to the next of kin who would read them. Squeezed between an almighty concrete cinema complex at one end and a giant intersection at the other, Cricklewood was no kind of place. It was not a place a man came to die. It was a place a man came in order to go other places via the A41. But Archie Jones didn’t want to die in some pleasant, distant woodland, or on a cliff edge fringed with delicate heather. The way Archie saw it, country people should die in the country and city people should die in the city. Only proper. In death as he was in life and all that. It made sense that Archibald should die on this nasty urban street where he had ended up, living alone at the age of forty-seven, in a one-bedroom flat above a deserted chip shop. He wasn’t the type to make elaborate plans—suicide notes and funeral instructions—he wasn’t the type for anything fancy. All he asked for was a bit of silence, a bit of shush so he could concentrate. He wanted it to be perfectly quiet and still, like the inside of an empty confessional box or the moment in the brain between thought and speech. He wanted to do it before the shops opened.
The Autograph Man (2002)
White Teeth (2000)
White Teeth reading group guide
Video: [email protected], Zadie Smith & Ann Patchett