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Over the past month or two I've endeavored to read Zadie Smith's White Teeth again, five years (roughly) after reading it for a high school English literature course. To my growing horror, it involves a meeting with the suck fairy I did not anticipate, to levels where I find it difficult to read more than a two page section without feeling like I've metamorphosed from a person into the species Homo sapiens immigrantis, something that Smith is quick to characterize as simultaneously having a leg in each continent and being more [insert demonym (adjectival form) here] than the [demonym (noun form)].


It also might have had the most gut-wrenching exchange between a desi immigrant and a white "lapsed Catholic":

"Well," said Joyce, released by Marcus and planting herself down at the circular table, inviting them to do the same, "you look very exotic. Where are you from, if you don't mind me asking?"


"Willesden,"said Irie and Millat simultaneously.


"Yes, yes, of course, but where originally?"


"Oh," said Millat, putting on what he called a bud-bud-ding-ding accent. "You are meaning where from am I originally?"


Joyce looked confused. "Yes, originally."


"Whitechapel," said Millat, pulling out a fag. "Via the Royal London Hospital and the 207 bus."




True, this is an exchange that happens to many immigrants (and children of immigrants) in European countries. However, the singular issue is that even at her most scathing, Smith presents the Chalfens (a white middle class British family) as significantly more stable than any of the other families in her book. While this might be symptomatic of writing for her audience, the continual remarks on the dubious nature of Mangal Pande certainly don't inspire my confidence that she isn't more English than the English.

Mostly I'm just disappointed to come back and discover that this book is ultimately still not for me, despite being the first time I remember reading literature with a desi character (which may speak more to my taste in books).

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