Years too late.

Ever behind the times, I am currently reading Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Standard reactions being had: the book is brilliant; Smith is wise beyond her 30-odd years (White Teeth was published when she was just 24).

Most fascinating to me, though, is Smith's useful critique of multiculturalism, the commodification of culture and beauty, and the skewed histories of colonialism that continue to reach well beyond South Asian borderlines. In short, White Teeth is an intensely theoretical novel. We no longer need to search for narratives on which to superimpose our disembodied theories. Smith has done it for us: here is a narrative written of the theory, of the body--concisely, eloquently, organically.

To set up the passage below: Millat, the UK-born son of a Bangladeshi Muslim, reacts to the publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Notice how Smith delineates the complexities and interactions between the postcolonial, the migrant, and the diasporic, all in the last few phrases:

To be more precise, Millat hadn’t read it. Millat knew nothing about the writer, nothing about the book; could not identify the book if it lay in a pile of others; could not pick out the writer in a lineup of other writers (irresistible, this lineup of offending writers: Socrates, Protagoras, Ovid and Juvenal, Radclyffe Hall, Boris Pasternak, D.H. Lawrence, Solzhenitsyn, Nabokov, all holding up their numbers for the mug shot, squinting in the flashbulb). But he knew other things. He knew that he, Millat, was a Paki no matter where he came from; that he smelled of curry; had no sexual identity; took other people’s jobs; or had no job and bummed off the state; or gave all the jobs to his relatives; that he could be a dentist or a shop-owner or a curry-shifter, but not a footballer or a filmmaker; that he should go back to his own country; or stay here and earn his bloody keep; that he worshipped elephants and wore turbans; that no one who looked like Millat, or spoke like Millat, or felt like Millat, was ever on the news unless they had recently been murdered. In short, he knew he had no face in this country, no voice in this country, until the week before last when suddenly people like Millat were on every channel and every radio and every newspaper and they were angry, and Millat recognized the anger, thought it recognized him, and grabbed it with both hands.


1 comment:

justine renee wenger said...

you write so beautifully. you could sell mayonnaise to goat farmers. not an easy task. xo