Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

First published:-1999

Star rating:-

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 India, Jamaica and Bangladesh are recreated here and not the imagined India, Jamaica and Bangladesh 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.

   photo C136E66569D294E4D5DA2D8124D4FF69.png

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...