The melting pot experience and White Teeth

WHITE_TEETHGrowing up a minority, I always had this nagging thought it the back of my mind. It rarely comes to mind anymore but it plagued me as a kid.

I always thought my life would have been far easier if I were white.

Because being the only Chinese kid in a small town wasn’t just different. When you’re 8 years old, it’s wrong. And in case you missed The Hunger Games, kids can be real assholes. But enough bitching, because I eventually realized that white kids have problems too.

If I had my way, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth would be mandatory reading because it’s such a great description of how citizens interact in melting pot cities around the world. It’s not just about immigration, it’s about the generation gap, extremist mentality and all the things that make cities complex.

WHITE_fishWhite Teeth tells the story of two families living in London thru three different generations. There’s Samad, the Pakistani immigrant and his family. Then there’s Archie, a indecisive Brit who meets Samad as WWII buddies. White Teeth goes on to chronicle their lives from their ancestors to their children. This is Smith’s fictional eco-system and she adds new fish wherever relevant.

White Teeth describes a beautiful London. But it’s not conventionally beautiful, it’s exotic beautiful, ugly beautiful, gap-toothed beautiful. That’s the only way I can describe beauty in an immigrant society. And I’m not talking about the beauty of cultures coming together over politically correct avenues of food and dance.

No, I’m talking about parents who reminisce of a motherland that doesn’t exist anymore (at least not the way they left it). Second generation kids who are constantly losing and finding themselves. The pride and shame of letting your family history define you. And that universal longing to belong.



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12 thoughts on “The melting pot experience and White Teeth

  1. I’ve never read a Zadie Smith novel and I feel like I’m really missing out. I’ve heard so many great things and her books always sound excellent. Since it’s the New Year and it’s resolution time I officially resolve to finally read one of her books in 2013

    • Hi Kathy! Not sure if her books would work in audio. White Teeth had lots of characters — all with their own stories. So it could get confusing. I’ve read that NW is similar to White Teeth. Definitely give it a shot on paper/ ebook. She’s a fantastic writer.

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  5. Your review sounds wonderful. I’m a second generation child as well, both my parents came from Spain, but we live in Australia. I ‘missed out on’ a lot of the conventional racism because my family looks very caucasian (if only with fair olive skin) and there is no community conflict for the Spanish in Australia. Some of our immigrant family friends have had to face racism though. And even so, the concepts of belonging, of who I am (am I more Spanish or Australian?), etc. makes me think I would really enjoy this book. I will have to put it on my to-read list. Thanks for sharing it with me. 🙂

    – Ermisenda

    • I hope you enjoy it! It’s so interesting how the immigrant experience is so different for everyone. My bf is Greek and he doesn’t get identified as a visible minority in Canada but he feels like an outsider sometimes and I guess we can all have those feelings in these big cosmopolitan cities. Thanks reading Ermisenda 🙂

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