Wednesday, June 12, 2013

WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith

Is this book a modern classic?  Sometimes the critics and I don't see eye to eye.  The ending to this book almost justified the 500 pages I had to read to get there, but not quite.  Archie Jones routinely makes life-and-death decisions by flipping a coin.  As bad decisions go, though, his are equaled by those of his long-time friend Samad Iqbal.  Samad longs to send his twin sons to Bangladesh so that they can become good Muslims and escape decadent Western influences.  Alas, he can afford to send only one and makes the ill-advised decision to send the studious son Magid, rather than the wayward son Millat.  Naturally, Magid embraces science there, eschewing religion, while Millat joins a fundamentalist Islam group here in the good old U.S.A.  The linchpin, though, is the Chalfen family, who host Millat and Archie's daughter Irie, along with their own son Joshua, in a school-imposed detention that reshapes everyone's lives.  Marcus Chalpen is a genetic researcher whose FutureMouse will prove to the world that genetic engineering can overcome the apparent randomness of fatal diseases.  I don't want to give too much away, but the finale brings together a volatile amalgamation:  Millat's jihad, Archie's mother-in-law and her band of Jehovah's Witnesses, the scientific community, and Joshua's animal rights group.  We can expect sparks to fly, but the surprise lies elsewhere.  The author treats the fragility of life in an interesting way, I must admit.  It literally turns on a dime, and a life saved can make a huge, unforeseen impact.  That impact may be positive or it may be negative or it may just stir the pot—or the plot, in this case.

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