Growing up in the suburb of London in a family of English father and Jamaican mother is not a perfect background for success. However, all the professional ambitions of Zadie Smith were within the artistic field. The childhood dreams of becoming an actress, singing jazz at the university to make money, and plans to take up journalism ended in a literary career. At the moment, she has about twenty literature awards for her short stories and novels, some of which are bestsellers.
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The world of Zadie Smith opened up for me a couple of years ago. I have been looking for a book to take on vacation and found the novel On Beauty. I thought it was a common love story and did not expect much. However, it took my attention, and by the end of the vacation, I found myself reading Smith’s first novel White Teeth together with critiques on her works.
The suburban London depicted by Zadie Smith is both multi-class and multiethnic. The characters represent the connection between generations and cultures. Smith knows this world from inside since she grew up there. She said, “My life is black and white and mixed. My mother’s a Rastafarian, my dad was a short white guy – it’s not an affectation. It’s also the lives of millions of people throughout the world.” That is why one penetrates the suburb life while reading. White Teeth presents the suburb as absurd to some extent, exaggerated and stereotypical place. The novel captures a reader with its explicit humor and comic situations which seem to be inspired by Dickens. One of the concepts in the story is the need for a change in human relations. This piece of writing is rich in unpredictable situations like accidental meetings, successful rescues, fatal happenings, or unusual conditions. They just depict life as it is. The issue of change is connected with the personality of the character who lives life by accident. The randomness is probably related to the character of the suburb which is the accidental gathering of diverse representatives of cultures and nations. The comprehension of the accident as a standard of modern society is also connected with the racial and cultural mixture discovered by the author. On the whole, White Teeth give the idea of the suburb as a chaotic but friendly place that is diverse and surprising.
The first novels of Smith sound optimistic. Still, the critiques point out some despair that appeared in the more recent stories. Smith, who was claimed as the one promoting ‘multiculturalism’ in her early works, describes this aspect differently probably due to the impact of global migration nowadays. Thus, a later novel Capital is the reflection of the up-to-date suburban people who are isolated in their homes and do not interact much. Another view of the modern suburb is traced in the novel of 2012 NW. Here it is a place that should be escaped at the first possibility. It is not able to become a real home, provide the feeling of unity, traditions, and succession. People who live there lack a sense of identity.
The concept of racial and cultural identity is traced to the majority of her works. Even in On Beauty which seems to be concentrated on the issues of beauty, both physical and abstract, together with family and gender relations, the aspect of social split on the racial basis is regarded.
Zadie Smith is considered a new voice of contemporary British Literature. She continues the tradition of writing in the suburbs started by Dickens. Although actively criticized at the beginning of her career, she is now recognized as a worthy representative of modern literature. Her outstanding choice of language, humor, and character reflections do not leave anyone indifferent.
Smith’s novels and short stories have been analyzed and criticized by many researchers. Still, I suppose that there is a sphere of her writing that did not receive enough attention. I would like to concentrate on her essays, articles, and interviews on contemporary problems. Her reflections on politics, for example, contain interesting observations.