Smith, Zadie 1976–
Smith, Zadie 1976–
PERSONAL: Born 1976, in England; daughter of an advertising executive and a child psychologist. Education: Cambridge University, B.A., 1998; attended Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Office—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 299 Park Ave., New York, NY 10171-0002.
AWARDS, HONORS: Whitbread Award, 2000, for White Teeth; named one of the Granta Best of Young British Novelists, 2003; Orange Prize for Fiction nomi-nation, and Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize, both 2003, both for The Autograph Man; Man Booker Prize shortlist, 2005, and Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Eurasia region), both for On Beauty.
White Teeth: A Novel, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
The Autograph Man, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
On Beauty, Hamish Hamilton (New York, NY), 2005.
ADAPTATIONS: White Teeth was adapted into a British Broadcast Corporation four-part television mini-series, 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: British novelist Zadie Smith burst into the international fiction scene with the publication of her debut novel White Teeth in 2000, and was immediately hailed as a new voice in British literature. The half-Jamaican Smith has since been lauded for her multicultural exploration in White Teeth, which was written during her years as an undergraduate at Cambridge University. As Askhari Hodari commented in a review of White Teeth for Black Issues Book Review, Smith "has produced something few would expect from a twenty-something first-time novelist. Golf has Tiger Woods, basketball has Kobe Bryant, and now literature has Zadie Smith. What is this generation coming to?"
White Teeth is the story of the "lifelong friendship between Archie, a white, working-class Londoner, and Samad, a Muslim from Bangladesh, with issues of race, religion, generational conflict and genetically modified mice thrown spicily in to the pot," summarized Sarah Lyall in an interview with Smith in the New York Times Book Review. "Theirs is a relationship born of World War II, forged on a lie and nourished on the greasy eggs served at O'Connell's Pool House, which, by the way, is neither Irish nor a pool hall. In fact, nothing in their lives has turned out as it seemed it would," noted Susan Horsburgh in Time.
Critics were enthusiastic in their response to the book. "When Zadie Smith published her first book in Britain earlier this year, the press and literati agreed: the novel and the novelist were 'dropdead cool,'" commented Jeff Giles in Newsweek. A Publishers Weekly critic called the book a "stunning, polymathic debut…. Smith's novel recalls the hyper-contemporary yet history-infused work of Rushdie, sharp-edged, fluorescent and many-faceted." A critic for Economist found the work clever, continuing: "But lots of novels are clever, and what makes this one true and original is the way the comedy fizzes up through the characters. Dickens, not Salman Rushdie, comes to mind, with all his theatricality and exuberance."
Though Giles felt that the plot was "tortured" and the work as a whole had too many characters, he lauded Smith as an "astonishing intellect. She writes sharp dialogue for every age and race—and she's funny as hell." Anthony Quinn in the New York Times Book Review, wondering if Smith has taken on a task beyond her reach with White Teeth, found that "aside from a rather wobbly final quarter, Smith holds it all together with a raucous energy and confidence that couldn't be a fluke." "Imagine Charlie Parker with a typewriter, Coltrane with a laptop," wrote Greg Tate in Village Voice. "Incredibly enough, Smith just might be even smarter than her smackdown writing declares her to be."
Although Smith's second novel, The Autograph Man, was met with decidedly mixed reviews, her third novel, On Beauty, earned international acclaim. The novel confirmed that Smith is certainly the prominent contemporary writer critics have declared her to be. On Beauty takes place in England and New England, and it follows the rivalry of two professors and the interminglings of the members of their respective families. The novel is concerned with race, politics, and love; each issue plays itself out in the conflicts that occur between the characters' intellectual ideals and their baser desires. Library Journal reviewer Barbara Hoffert also noted that a prominent theme in the book focuses on love and even stated that the book should have been titled "On Love" because "it is the ties binding this family—and those coming apart—that really matter." Additionally, a Publishers Weekly contributor commended Smith's "insightful probing of what makes life complicated (and beautiful)." And of the several characters in the story, Time International writer Lillian Kennett stated: "You are not simply entertained by the writer's versatility and brilliant characters; you really care about these people." Kennett also commented that On Beauty "is striking for the maturity of its sensibility and suggests that Smith is, indeed, a talent to watch over the long haul."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black Issues Book Review, September, 2000, Askhari Hodari, "The Mystique of Zadie Smith," p. 26.
Booklist, April 1, 2000, Danise Hoover, review of White Teeth, p. 1436; August, 2005, Barbara Hoffert, review of On Beauty, p. 73.
Commonweal, August 11, 2000, Anita Mathias, review of White Teeth, p. 27.
Economist, February 19, 2000, review of White Teeth, p. 5.
Hudson Review, winter, 2001, Tom Wilhelmus, review of White Teeth, p. 694.
Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Rebecca A. Stuhr, review of White Teeth, p. 132.
New Republic, July 24, 2000, James Wood, "Human, All Too Inhuman: The Smallness of the 'Big' Novel," p. 41.
New Statesman & Society, January 29, 2001, Jason Cowley, "The Tiger Woods of Literature?," p. 57.
Newsweek, May 1, 2000, Jeff Giles, review of White Teeth, p. 73.
New York Review of Books, February 8, 2001, John Lanchester, review of White Teeth, p. 28.
New York Times Book Review, April 30, 2000, Anthony Quinn, review of White Teeth, pp. 7-8; April 30, 2000, Sarah Lyall, "A Good Start" (interview), p. 8;; October 6, 2002, Daniel Zalewski, review of The Autograph Man, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2000, review of White Teeth, p. 60; August 1, 2005, review of On Beauty, p. 44.
Time, May 8, 2000, "Of Roots and Family Trees," p. 94; September 30, 2002, James Poniewozik, review of The Autograph Man, p. 92.
Time International, September 19, 2005, Lillian Kennett, review of On Beauty, p. 54.
Times Literary Supplement, January 21, 2000, Sukhdev Sandhu, "Excremental Children," p. 21.
Village Voice, May 16, 2000, Greg Tate, review of White Teeth, p. 75.
World & I, September, 2000, Merritt Mosley, review of White Teeth, p. 220.
World Literature Today, winter, 2001, Bruce King, review of White Teeth, p. 116.
Yale Review, July, 2000, Meghan O'Rourke, review of White Teeth, p. 159.