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, about 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, 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 northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.
'The fact is, if we followed the history of every little country in the world — in its dramatic as well as its quiet times — we would have no space left in which to live our own lives or apply ourselves to our necessary tasks, never mind indulge in occasional pleasures, like swimming… ' First published this Spring in the New Yorker, The Embassy of Cambodia is a rare and brilliant story that takes us deep into the life of a young woman, Fatou, domestic servant to the Derawals and escapee from one set of hardships to another. Beginning and ending outside the Embassy of Cambodia, which happens to be located in Willesden, NW London, Zadie Smith's absorbing, moving and wryly observed story suggests how the apparently small things in an ordinary life always raise larger, more extraordinary questions.
"NW" is Zadie Smith's masterful novel about London life. Zadie Smith's brilliant tragi-comic "NW" follows four Londoners — Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan — after they've left their childhood council estate, grown up and moved on to different lives. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their city is brutal, beautiful and complicated. Yet after a chance encounter they each find that the choices they've made, the people they once were and are now, can suddenly, rapidly unravel. A portrait of modern urban life, "NW" is funny, sad and urgent — as brimming with vitality as the city itself.
One of Zadie Smith's great gifts as a novelist is her openness: both to character and ideas in her stories, and to what a novel itself should be. That she's a novelist was clear as soon she broke through with White Teeth in her early twenties, but what kind she'll be (or will be next) seems open to change. Which all, along with her consistent intelligence, grace, and wit, makes her an ideal essayist too, especially for the sort of "occasional essays" collected for the first time in Changing My Mind. She can make the case equally for the cozy "middle way" of E.M. Forster and the most purposefully demanding of David Foster Wallace's stories, both as a reader and, you imagine, as a writer who is considering their methods for her own. The occasions in this book didn't only bring her to write about writers, though: she also investigates, among other subjects, Katherine Hepburn, Liberia, and Barack Obama (through the lens of Pygmalion), and, in the collection's finest piece, recalls her late father and their shared comedy snobbery. One wishes more occasions upon her.
Zadie Smith's White Teeth is a delightfully cacophonous tale that spans 25 years of two families' assimilation in North London. The Joneses and the Iqbals are an unlikely a pairing of families, but their intertwined destinies distill the British Empire 's history and hopes into a dazzling multiethnic melange that is a pure joy to read. Smith proves herself to be a master at drawing fully-realized, vibrant characters, and she demonstrates an extraordinary ear for dialogue. It is a novel full of humor and empathy that is as inspiring as it is enjoyable.
White Teeth is ambitious in scope and artfully rendered with a confidence that is extremely rare in a writer so young. It boggles the mind that Zadie Smith is only 24 years old, and this novel is a clarion call announcing the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction. It is a raucous yet poignant look at modern life in London and is clearly the book to read this summer.