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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Just a quick link over from my goodreads.com account.

I may have mentioned before, the house where I’m staying has a fantastic library with many English-language books. I’m sort of overwhelmed because there are so many books here that are on my “to-read” list and many more I’ve added since arriving. I’ve started applying a rule for choosing: pick books that they have in both English and Norwegian. If’ they’ve got two copies, it must be good, right?

I recently finished reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I liked On Beauty better, maybe because of the academic setting and the central theme of long-term family relationships. But even still, reading White Teeth now, as I establish my life as an immigrant in a country caught up in anti-immigrant sentiment (although, show me a country doesn’t continually struggle with such things), some aspects of the book were¬†particularly¬†poignant.

Two quotes summed things up perfectly:

“But he knew other things. He knew that he, Millat, was a Paki no matter where he came from; that he smelt of curry; had no sexual identity; took other people’s jobs; or had no job and bummed off the state; or gave all the jobs to his relatives; that he could be a dentist or a shop-owner or a curry-shifter, but not a footballer or a film-maker; that he should go back to his own country; or stay here and earn his bloody keep; that he worshipped elephants and wore turbans; that no one who looked like Millat, or spoke like Millat, or felt like Millat, was ever on the news unless they had recently been murdered. In short, he knew he had no face in this country, no voice in the country, until the week before last when suddenly people like Millat were on every channel and every radio and every newspaper and they were angry, and Millat recognized the anger, thought it recognized him, and grabbed it with both hands.” (pp. 233-34)

and

“‘There are no words. The one I send home comes out a pukka Englishman, white suited, silly wig lawyer. The one I keep here is fully paid-up green bow-tie-wearing fundamentalist terrorist. I sometimes wonder why I bother,’ said Samad bitterly, betraying the English inflections of twenty years in the country, ‘I really do. These days, it feels to me like you make a devil’s pact when you walk into this country. You hand over your passport at the check-in, you get stamped, you want to make a little money, get yourself started… but you mean to go back ! Who would want to stay? Cold, wet, miserable; terrible food, dreadful newspapers– who would want to stay? In a place where you are never welcomed, only tolerated. Just tolerated. Like you are an animal finally house-trained. Who would want to stay? But you have made a devil’s pact… it drags you in and suddenly you are unsuitable to return, your children are unrecognizable, you belong nowhere… And then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly this thing, this beloning, it seems like some long, dirty lie… and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident. But if you believe that, where do you go? What do you do? What does anything matter?” (pp.407-08)

An impactful (collection of) story(ies) about the social clashes between generations, classes, men and women/husbands and wives, science and religion, first and second generation immigrants, foreign-born and native-born, and the legacy of empire… with a little sexuality thrown in for good measure. No wonder Smith made such a big splash. This book was quite a remarkable undertaking and was, for the most part, successful, I think.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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