White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Title:  White Teeth
Author:  Zadie Smith
Release date:  April 25, 2000
Publisher:  Vintage
Pages:  464
Genre:  Literary fiction
Source:  Personal copy

White Teeth is a complex family saga involving three families and two generations.  Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal serve together in the English army during World War II, and remain friends in London after the war, after Archie marries the beautiful Jamacian Clara and Samad marries fellow Bengali Alsana.  Alsana and Samad have twin sons, Magid and Millat, and Archie and Clara have a daughter at the same time, Irie.  After Samad sends Magid back to Bangladesh to be educated, Millat and Irie form a friendship with classmate Joshua, whose parents, Marcus and Joyce, become very close with and protective of Millat.  The challenges these families face come to a head when, eight years after going to Bangladesh, Magid returns, a completely different person, and forms an odd friendship and working partnership with Marcus. White Teeth is a book about the immigration experience, about marriage, about the difficulties in raising children, and about how many challenges the average family really has in day to day life.

I am going to say something that I think will be quite unpopular:  I really didn’t like this book.  I think perhaps I missed the point.  When I started it, the characters drew me in immediately, and I cared about them, I cared about their lives, I was completely intrigued by what might happen to them.  Then, 200 pages later, they began to annoy me.  And 200 pages after that, they had really annoyed me and I was extremely glad the book was almost over.  Then it ended, and I was left wondering why I bothered to finish it.

I know that’s harsh, and usually if I dislike a book I don’t even make it past the first fifty or so pages.  But in this case, the book had a lot of promise in the beginning, which is why I kept reading.  And throughout, there would be scenes I liked, parts that made me laugh or almost cry, and characters I was especially drawn to.  So it wasn’t all bad.  It’s just that, at the end of the day, I truly did not understand what Smith was trying to accomplish.  And if I was looking to read White Teeth for entertainment value alone, well I certainly didn’t get that.  The characters were all just so annoying.  Truthfully, I didn’t connect with any of them and that’s my biggest pet peeve when it comes to books – I need to find something to connect with at least one of the characters.  I need something to latch onto, something I can understand or at least like about them.  And I didn’t get that at all with this book.

The book wasn’t horrible by any means, it just did not speak to me personally.  I was engaged with the plot, for the most part, and I still found certain aspects of the novel interesting and readable.  But in general, I did not enjoy the book too much and I would hesitate to recommend it to a friend.  Other bloggers have loved it, though, so don’t take my word for it – check out other reviews before making a decision.

For those of you who have read White Teeth, what did you think?  Am I totally crazy that I did not enjoy the book?

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33 thoughts on “White Teeth by Zadie Smith

  1. Sorry this one disappointed you. My husband bought if for me ages ago, but I’ve put off reading it because of mixed reviews. I usually like family sagas, so hopefully I’ll like this one. We’ll see.

  2. I very much enjoyed this book – I really like immigrant fiction and like you I was drawn in by the characters. I didn’t reach the point where they annoyed me.

    Thanks for your honest review – not every book appeals to everyone.

  3. This is probably one of my favorite books of all time – but I understand why you didn’t like it. I’ve never actually seen anyone who was ambivalent toward her work: they either love it or really hate it.

  4. I haven’t read this one, but every time I see it on a list or shelf I think I should. Thanks for making me feel better about not putting it on my tbr list 🙂

  5. I’m with you! I didn’t like it all. But I don’t think I ever cared about the characters. I’m not sure why I even finished it, and even worse, Why I read On Beauty too, which I also didn’t like.

    1. Good to know you didn’t like On Beauty, because I’ve been considering trying it out just to see if maybe it was any better. I’m still going to consider it, though.

  6. Hmmm….I really loved Zadie Smith’s essays, and I wanted to try one of her books. On the other hand, I am not the biggest fan of Massive Family Sagas, so considering that and your review, I believe I’ll start somewhere else. 🙂

    1. You may like the book if you’re a big fan of her essays, I don’t know. I liked some of her essays and didn’t like others. and what I really didn’t like about White Teeth was the plot, not the writing, so you might still want to try.

    1. You know what, I may have enjoyed it if I read it more slowly and discussed it with others as I was reading. I really can’t say, but that is definitely a possibility.

  7. I was supposed to read this for a university course a few years ago, but never got around to it. One of these days I’ll pull it out of the box it’s stored in and read it – sad to hear that it disappointed you, I’ve mostly heard good things about it.

  8. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. I loved this book, and On Beauty, but I can see how she could be an acquired (or not) taste. What I am happiest about is that you don’t have a bunch of responses saying ‘oh, okay, I won’t bother to read it then’. Yay for readers who make up their own minds.

    1. I so agree, Allison. I would NEVER want someone to shy away from a book just because I personally did not enjoy it. There are so many books out there, and so many different people to match them to, and White Teeth is obviously a favorite of many, so I absolutely hope that people will still read it if they think it is the right book for them. I’m glad you liked it so much!

  9. I’ve never felt compelled to read this book, so I’m glad you didn’t thoroughly enjoy it 😉 I have heard lots of good about it, so thanks for tipping the boat a bit to the other side.

  10. Heather, I too disliked this book. I also felt that I didn’t get the point; indeed I felt as if there was no point to get. The characters alienated me -I actively hated them! The setting was depressing, flat and boring: decrepit flats in seedy parts of London filled with people who are their own worst enemies. This book came highly recommended by my PhD supervisor and a close friend, so you can imagine that I had high expectations for it. Unfortunately, the book left me feeling baffled, angry and like I had wasted my time.

  11. Well that sucks this on didn’t work out for you. I have it on my list to finally read this year. So, we’ll see. I hope the rest of your challenge reads fair better.

  12. I’m in that “one of my favorites of all time” camp! I loved the characters and can’t recall ever laughing so much and to the point of tears throughout a book than I did with this one! Smith’s sense of humour appeals to me as well as the quirkiness of her stories and people.

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