Summary and book reviews of White Teeth by Zadie Smith

White Teeth

A Novel

by Zadie Smith

White Teeth by Zadie Smith X
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2000, 448 pages
    Jun 2001, 464 pages

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Book Summary

Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant - the story of two North London families - one headed by Archie, the other by Archie's best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal.

On New Year's morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie--working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt--is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie's car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.

Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant, White Teeth is the story of two North London families--one headed by Archie, the other by Archie's best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for "no problem"). Samad--devoutly Muslim, hopelessly "foreign"--weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union. They have twin sons named Millat and Magid, one a pot-smoking punk-cum-militant Muslim and the other an insufferable science nerd. The riotous and tortured histories of the Joneses and the Iqbals are fundamentally intertwined, capturing an empire's worth of cultural identity, history, and hope.

Zadie Smith's dazzling first novel plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant café, a liberal public school, a sleek science institute. A winning debut in every respect, White Teeth marks the arrival of a wondrously talented writer who takes on the big themes--faith, race, gender, history, and culture--and triumphs.

The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones

Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signaling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year's resolution.

But even as his breathing became spasmodic and his lights dimmed, Archie was aware that Cricklewood Broadway would seem a strange ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. White Teeth has generated enormous interest within the publishing world, in part because it is an unusually assured first novel, produced by a writer who is still very young. What aspects of White Teeth--in terms of either style or content--strike you as most unusual in a debut novel? How is White Teeth different from other first novels you have read?

  2. A few days before Archie tries to kill himself because his first wife has left him, Samad tries to console him: "You have picked up the wrong life in the cloakroom and you must return it . . . there are second chances; oh yes, there are second chances in life" [p. 11]. Does Archie's marriage to Clara constitute a second chance that improves greatly upon the life he had before he met...
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Media Reviews

The Times Literary Supplement

A writer of mighty potential.

Sunday Telegraph

This is a strikingly clever and funny book with a passion for ideas, for language, and for the rich tragicomedy of life. . . . [Smith's] characters always ring true; it is her ebullient, simple prose and her generous understanding of human nature that make Zadie Smith's novel outstanding. It is not only great fun to read, but full of hope.

Marie Claire

A vibrant, multicultural extravaganza.

Good Housekeeping

Darting between decades, cultures and generations, this chronicle of immigrant London fizzes with life. - Mario Russo

Like all the best comic writers, Smith is dead serious. She's got things to say about some big questions, and not just the politically trendy ones that the multicultural nature of her cast of characters might suggest..... White Teeth is life-affirming in a thoroughly unsentimental way.

The Independent

A rich, ambitious, and often hilarious delight.

The Telegraph

Bounding, vibrant, richly imagined and thoroughly engaging.

The Observer

The first publishing sensation of the millennium.

The Guardian

Poised and relentlessly funny. . . . A major new talent.

The Evening Standard

Outstanding... refreshingly upbeat and deserving of all the attention it is getting.

The Observer Magazine

The biggest literary talent for 2000... One of the most impressive first novels of recent years.

Author Blurb Salman Rushdie
Zadie Smith's fizzing first novel is about how we all got here--from the Caribbean, from the Indian subcontinent, from thirteenth place in a long-ago Olympic bicycle race--and about what here turned out to be. It's an astonishingly assured debut, funny and serious, and the voice has real writerly idiosyncrasy. I was delighted by White Teeth and often impressed. It has . . . bite.

Reader Reviews


Incredible first novel for someone so young. It is a wonderful look at the modern world that we all have to find some way to get along with people very different from ourselves. Also a moving look at the harm and benefits of assimilation into ...   Read More


I am only part way through the book but feel that I can offer a valuable review.
It is a great read. It is not about one particualr subject rather it deals with a lot of stories that inter-twine.
Its serious and funny and the way it is ...   Read More


I didn't like the book for several reasons. I felt the characters were either underdrawn, overdrawn or were so inconsistant in their behaviour as to be shallow. Examples of this are mostly seen in the twins with Millat, the super gangster, giving up ...   Read More


hate this book
This book sucked! I had to read it for my english class, and I had to do a 5 page research paper on it. The language, words, and different plotts do not make any sence to me. How do you find racism, apathy, discrimination, acculturation, dysfuction, ...   Read More

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