White Teeth is the debut novel of Zadie Smith, published in 2000. It was exceptionally well-received by the critic
s, and won The Guardian First Book Award
, The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction
, and The 2000 Whitbread
First Novel Award.
Normally, I am sceptical about novels which have been so hyped and highly praised, but this one actually deserves the praise it has received.
The novel is something of an epic, stretching over many generations of many families, and yet Smith manages to make all her characters three-dimensional and entertaining figures. Smith recounts the histories of a disperate collection of people who share the surnames Bowden, Chalfen, Iqbal and Jones. The stories of their lives take us from Jamaica in 1906 to London in 1992, via Eastern Europe in 1945.
One of the major themes of the novel is race, and, as the title suggests, the only thing that the main characters have in common is their white teeth. Smith writes about the race relations in Jamaica in the early 20th century, and shifts effortlessly into recounting the reaction of British muslims to the publication of Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" almost one hundred years later.
The characters, however minor, are all larger than life and the prose style is flawless. There is also a great deal of witty humour which, along with the gripping storylines, makes this novel unputdownable!