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Summary and book reviews of Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Swing Time

by Zadie Smith

Swing Time
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Nov 2016, 416 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.

In an unusual decision, the publisher and author have decided not to provide any excerpts from Swing Time.

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (793 words).

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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