my take: Every so often while reading I had to look back to the publishing date to double check that this was written before 9/11. Although this took me waaaaay too long to read (thusly ruining my book schedule), I found White Teeth enormously engaging and eerily relevant to today’s immigration and terrorist situation.
Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal meet during WWII fighting for the British and bond over a horrific incident. Their friendship lasts through the decades and is a stage for Ms. Smith to interject nearly every subject known to humankind: culture, religion, race, marriage, poverty, immigration, colonialism, intellect, siblings, twins, parenting, politics, nationalism, identity and more! Seriously, this is nearly as all-inclusive as Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The narrative jumps from past to present and throws a wide net to catch a crazy cast of characters, and, with a bit of wrangling, ties all the disparate bits and bobs into the final scene.
Here’s a snippet:
“The principles of Christianity and Sod’s Law (also known as Murphy’s Law) are the same: Everything happens to me, for me. So if a man drops a piece of toast and it lands butter-side down, this unlucky event is interpreted as being proof of an essential truth about bad luck: that the toast fell as it did just to prove to you, Mr. Unlucky, that there is a defining force in the universe and it is bad luck. It’s not random. It could never have fallen on the right side, so the argument goes, because that’s Sod’s Law. In short, Sod’s Law happens to you to prove to you that there is Sod’s Law, Yet, unlike gravity, it is a law that does not exist whatever happens: when the toast lands on the right side, Sod’s Law mysteriously disappears. Likewise, when Clara fell, knocking the teeth out of the top of her mouth, while Ryan stood up without a scratch, Ryan knew it was because God had chosen Ryan as one of the saved and Clara as one of the unsaved. not because one was wearing a helmet and the other wasn’t. And had it happened the other way round, had gravity reclaimed Ryan’s teeth and sent them rolling down Primrose Hill like tiny enamel snowballs, well . . . you can bet your life that God, in Ryan’s mind, would have done a vanishing act.” p. 37
Witty, sarcastic, prophetic, instructive, surprising, White Teeth has it all going on.
my source: prepping for The Festival of Faith and Writing: My mother read this years ago and doesn’t remember liking it; I read On Beauty years ago and don’t remember especially liking that. We’re each reading the other to be ready to hear Ms. Smith speak at FF&W at Calvin College in April. And liking our new selections. Go. Figure.
my verdict: good, thought-provoking read