Summary and book reviews of Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Swing Time

by Zadie Smith

Swing Time by Zadie Smith X
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2016, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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Book Summary

An ambitious, exuberant new novel moving from North-West London to West Africa, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and On Beauty.

Two brown girls dream of being dancers - but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It's a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either...

Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from North-West London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.

One

If all the Saturdays of 1982 can be thought of as one day, I met Tracey at ten a.m. on that Saturday, walking through the sandy gravel of a churchyard, each holding our mother's hand. There were many other girls present but for obvious reasons we noticed each other, the similarities and the differences, as girls will. Our shade of brown was exactly the same - as if one piece of tan material had been cut to make us both - and our freckles gathered in the same areas, we were of the same height. But my face was ponderous and melancholy, with a long, serious nose, and my eyes turned down, as did my mouth. Tracey's face was perky and round, she looked like a darker Shirley Temple, except her nose was as problematic as mine, I could see that much at once, a ridiculous nose - it went straight up in the air like a little piglet. Cute, but also obscene: her nostrils were on permanent display. On noses you could call it a draw. On hair she won comprehensively. She had spiral ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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In general, I found the narration to be claustrophobic and felt that additional points of view would open the novel out. For despite its geographical and chronological sprawl, Swing Time feels insular, which saps the power of any potential messages about how race, money, and class still define and divide us. The title's reference to a Fred Astaire musical suggests that music and dance should be linking elements, but I couldn't see those connections working out. The novel takes on a lot of heavy themes but even in its nearly 500 pages can't quite pull them together.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (793 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] powerful and complex novel…Rich and absorbing, especially when it highlights Smith's ever-brilliant perspective on pop culture.

Booklist

Starred Review. Swing Time is an acidly funny, fluently global, and head-spinning novel about the quest for meaning, exaltation, and love. Excitement always surrounds much-lauded Smith's books (NW, 2012), and this tale of friendship lost and found is going to be big.

Library Journal

Starred Review. A rich and sensitive drama highly recommended for all readers.

Kirkus

Starred Review. Moving, funny, and grave, this novel parses race and global politics with Fred Astaire's or Michael Jackson's grace.

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Beyond the Book

Blackface in Performance

Early in Zadie Smith's novel Swing Time, the narrator shows a friend a clip from the 1936 Fred Astaire musical by the same name. She doesn't have her glasses on the first time she watches it so is startled when she realizes that Astaire performs a solo dance referred to as the "Bojangles of Harlem" in blackface.

Music and dance had been a big part of the narrator's and her best friend Tracey's childhood: they met at dance lessons and liked jiving to music videos and watching Hollywood musicals. Various later scenes revolve around music: they work together on the set of a Guys and Dolls production; the narrator performs karaoke to a song from Gypsy on her thirtieth birthday; and, after a long estrangement, the narrator sees Tracey acting ...

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