White Teeth
Zadie Smith

My sister Joy recommended this book to me a few years ago, and it was also recommended by Stephanie, a black friend from Britain ­ she said it was the first book sheıd read in which she felt the characters were from the world sheıd grown up in. I knew it was set in contemporary London, and I figured it was a book Iıd enjoy, multicultural chick lit.

Was I ever in for a surprise! As a work of literature, it is one of the most complex books Iıve read recently ­ almost as dense as Smithıs second novel, The Autograph Man, but much easier to follow. The plot, while revealed through the experiences of several characters, was a little clearer, and I found it easier to care about the people involved.

The story hinges on several opposites: old/young, male/female, history/legend, heads/tails, white/colored, British/immigrant (although whoıs an immigrant? the failure of the British empire is certainly a subtext throughout the story). And many religions ­ the climactic scene features assimilated Muslims, atheistic Jews, extremist Muslims, tree huggers, and yes, Jehovahıs Witnesses.

My niece read the book for a class and said there had been discussion on whether the book was depressing or uplifting. Well, it can certainly be depressing, particularly considering the chilling case the book makes for how short the path can be for an intelligent and charismatic, yet dark skinned and disenfranchised young man, nominally Muslim, to the most violent form of radical religious belief ­ and take note, the novel was published in 2000. Yet in a way the very last chapter is uplifting, a millennial poker game, plus a vindication and a new life, with ties to the old, for one of the characters; I wonıt spoil it for you by saying which one!

Definitely a thought-provoking work, and a good read besides ­ scattered throughout the literary pyrotechnics and the wrenching social commentary are many moments of humor, particularly with regards to adolescent sexual angst, some so hilarious I laughed out loud.