By Esin Huseyin & Charlotte Coster
Well aren’t you guys lucky, this month you’re being graced by two posts for London Book Club – unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get this up at the end of last month, so here it is to see May in!
This week we’ll be talking about Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. I’ve been joined by Charlotte Coster, who will first off be giving you her thoughts on the book.
I love London – the sights, the smells, the people. Everything about it is fantastic. The people in particular as you can meet such a huge variety, it’s like every culture has been represented. And this is just what White Teeth demonstrates.
White Teeth, set in North London, provides a hugely realistic version of London as it was in the 1970s-1990s. The main characters consist of white, black, mix-raced and Indian people and then goes on to depict how they interact with each other, using North London as the backdrop. It rarely strays into central London, implying that the characters don’t belong in this rich, expensive area.
They are almost segregated by being kept within their own area where they are seen for what they are – normal people, doing normal things. The novel discusses huge topics such as race, young teenagers finding their own identity, religion, gangs, teen-pregnancies…White Teeth has it all. And the constant yet understated action is also a reflection of London itself. A city that is so busy that people can barely keep up with each other. And this is what happens to Irie. Her journey is the most interesting as it shows her trying to find her own voice, among a flurry of much louder voices, who very often drown her out.
These are the people who don’t usually get a mention in everyday life, but who are always there, living and working and keeping the city alive and buzzing. And White Teeth offers a really interesting illustration into the unglamorous unflashy side of London, that (unless you live there), you never normally notice.
Charlotte has raised the issues of the different cultural backgrounds present in the book, which I find to be a true representation of London today. Considering this book was written in 2000, it still rings true the diversity that has not only settled in the capital, but also the diversity we encourage.
The book constantly battles between the assimilating and preserving of cultural backgrounds, which I believe some people still struggle with today – myself included, and I was born and bred here. The exploration through the difference in struggles from first and second generation characters trying to find a place in British society, is one that a lot of young adults are struggling with. I recently read an article where a young woman found herself calling herself a “Black British”; we seem to be creating our own subcultures in order to categorise where we belong.
The population of London stands at a breathtaking 8.3 million, and it’s great to see this book representing people who are often unheard, and giving us a glimpse into this beautiful city through a different set of eyes. These different perspectives are what make us change and grow – and to me, makes this book one of great power.