White Teeth teases out the tangled lives of two immigrant families, one from Bangladesh and the other from Jamacia — every member of which is trying to find a way to belong. Both have second generation children, who straddle the boundaries between the country of their birth and that of their origin. From failed suicides to spectacularly foiled political protests, the book covers variously the impending end of the world, and the future of one small mouse.
The dialogue is perfect. The narrative is witty. And the ending, while acknowledged as the only potential shortfall of the book (for being “too pat”), gave off the sense of history coming full circle, closing in on itself, running along the same well worn path.
Zadie Smith wrote the novel at 24, between studying for finals at Cambridge. Do you hate her enough yet? Even she has mused that one shouldn’t write a novel that young. A review in the literary magazine Butterfly read: “This kind of precocity in so young a writer has one half of the audience standing to applaud and the other half wishing, as with child performers of the past (Shirley Temple, Bonnie Langford et al), she would just stay still and shut up. White Teeth is the literary equivalent of a hyperactive, ginger-haired tap-dancing 10-year-old.” The review, according to Sam Wallace at the Daily Telegraph, was written by Smith herself.
You can see the locations from the book on the Londonist.