03 August, 2021

Immigrant Stomp

An exuberant, Rushdiesque debut stirs up London's melting pot

Immigrant Stomp

You would think there'd be scant space left under Salman Rushdie's literary wings for all the apostles gathered there, but they had best make room for Zadie Smith. White Teeth, her epic-sized debut novel, is more truly Rushdiesque than anything published in the last decade by anyone other than Rushdie. The 25-year-old Londoner is obsessed with themes that are virtually patented territory: tragi-comic immigrant angst, crises of identity, history and faith, the state of nationlessness, the potpourri soul. Smith's triumph is that despite being stylistically imitative to the point of parody, she retains her own voice - a funny, ironic one overlain with tenderness for her characters.

On page one we meet our hero Archibald Jones, professional paper-folder, in mid-suicide, to which he has been driven by his inglorious first marriage. Saved by the local butcher, and in a celebratory mood, Archie crashes a Jehovah's Witnesses party, where he meets the toothless but ravishing 19-year-old Jamaican Clara Bowden. They are swiftly married and produce a daughter,...

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