White Teeth

I have finished reading White Teeth: A Novel by Zadie Smith. It is a very good and fun novel. I would recommend it highly. It has very entertaining images of the different characters and their peculiarities. The English guy Archie and his Jamaican wife Clara, the Bengali Samad and his wife Alsana and their children Millat, Magid and Irie are all very interesting characters. The idiosyncracies of the immigrants in the story are very interesting and also generally true. However, it did seem to me that at a few points Zadie Smith confused Indian, Pakistani and Bengali culture, or may be I am mistaken. I am not sure.

The book describes some of the problems of immigrants and has a few characters, especially Millat, who get into militant Islamic organizations. The story rings true, but don’t read it to get an insight into Britain’s extremist Muslims. This is a novel, a work of fiction and not a sociological study.

Categorized as Books

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. Zadie Smith confused Indian, Pakistani and Bengali culture

    i thought that too. but, i recently found out that about 90% of bangladeshis in the u.k. are from sylhet district-so who knows what peculiarities that entails (the percentage is not that high in the u.s. for sure, though there is an isolated clannish sylheti group in many cities).

  2. I read this two years ago, and I recall two things that rung false. One, Samad is supposedly Bangladeshi, and there is considerable flashback to his life in WWII, but we never hear what happened to him in the 71 war. It was a cataclysmic event in Bangladesh, and it is odd that it is never mentioned.

    Two, Samad went to school in Delhi. Why was a Bengali Muslim going to school in Delhi instead of Calcutta (or possibly Aligarh Muslim University)?

    Other than that, it was a pretty accurate book, and very very funny. As a novel, I thought it fell apart towards the end, and I’m not sure why extra characters were introduced in the last third of the book. But it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.

    I’ve heard its been made into TV series in the UK. Has anyone seen it?

  3. Delhi has one of the largest Bengali communities in South Asia. There are whole colonies, or satellite towns, populated by Bengalis and Bangladeshis in New Delhi (Urdu Muslims, I guess, are still concentrated in Chadni Chowk).

    People tend to remember wars, which they fought. For instance for South Asian veterans of WW2 they would be affected by that war rather than the following Indo-Pak conflicts, which were critical to defining the respective national psyche.


  4. for what it’s worth, my mother tells me that many older people (as in born before partition) did not look upon the 1971 war of liberation (or whatever you call it) as a good thing-they liked pakistan and all that. my grandfather, who was born in 1896 (died 1996) always missed pakistan and did not like the new bangladesh to his dying day.

    ironically, the person in my family who is most easily characterized as a bangladeshi nationalist is my father. the ironic part is that his mother’s family were converts from hinduism 70 years back, not old line bengali muslims (most of my paternal grandmother’s cousins moved to india about partition) while his father was from a historically urdu speaking family. overcompensation i suspect….

  5. razib: I think most Bengladeshi immigrants in the UK are from Sylhet. No idea whether they have a somewhat different culture or not.

    Interesting personal anecdote.

    Ikram: Now that you mention it, the omission of the 71 war seems like a problem.

  6. i read that book at school and tomorrow i will write a test over six hours.
    i think i had enjoyed reading when i had not to.
    unfortunately there are no notes in your discussing round i might need.

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