Tuesday, July 25, 2017

White Teeth

The first novel of the author, I came across this when I read up about Zadie Smith's new book, Swing Time. I thought let me start with the very first one and opened White Teeth.

Set in North London in very ordinary neighbourhoods filled with immigrants and their second generation children, I could understand it as could many people I would assume given the success of this book. As with such books, the story and the end of where it takes us is less important than the journey itself.

Andrew, a white guy who is racially blind ends up marrying Clara who is a Caribbean black woman raised in London and decades younger. They have a daughter Irie who is more black than she is white. Andrew's friend from serving in World War II is Samad, a Bangladeshi who marries his decades younger cousin Alsana from Bangladesh. They have twins Magid and Millat. Samad and Andrew often reminisce the war days, spending more time with each other alienating their younger families. Samad also has a pet peeve of going off on a tangent about how Mangal Pandey (a hero of the Indian independence movement) was his great great grandfather. Enter the Chalfens, a perfect over achieving English middle class family who become obsessed with these non white kids and believe they can groom the kids out of their "difficult" homes.

There are many layers and themes in this story. One of lies and secrets: nothing is ever what it seems at the Jones or the Iqbals, or at least that's what Irie thinks. One of religions: Samad is a staunch Muslim, Clara's mother is a Jenovah's witness, Chalfens are religiously scientific, there is also a group of vegans and animal welfare activists. Etc etc.
There is one theme of teeth which I suppose is where the title comes from but that theme feels so forced, it's ridiculous and not in the funny way. Many chapters for example are titled the root canal of so and so. Then there is Clara who doesn't have front teeth and Iris feels cheated when she finds out.

So anyway, it's a little funny overall. I think it was meant to be a little more funny than I found it. And I also realised that Roopa Farookhi sort of made me like this book less.
You see, I read this book called Bitter Sweets. A first generation Bangladeshi couple move to London and have a pair of extremely good looking kids that they name them Omar and Sharif after the famous actor and one of them grows up to be a cool dude while the other is a geeky kid; overlaying all this is a story of how the immigrant families live in lies while the white people are so truthful. Bitter Sweets was written after White Teeth. I can't help thinking that Bitter Sweets was hugely "inspired" by this book.

Samad's twins were indeed so handsome there were references to Omar Sharif. I googled him and I was disappointed. Anyway, the twins are also similarly different - one is the cool dude and the other a geek. In this case however, they didn't get along well. And we discussed anyway, the Chalfens are truthful. However, let's ignore this.

The ending of the book was somewhat too theatrical ( but so was the entire book now that I think about it) and rather unnecessary. Too many things happening at the same time that the author couldn't write it well enough and each segment comes off as half done.

In summary, the book has a lot in it that is worth exploring and in most instances it was well explored however in bits and pieces the writing falls short of the intention and it shows that it is a debutant effort.

Never Let Me Go

This is so deep on so many levels and yet is such a refreshingly light read. It does make you cry at the end. If you want to read it I recommend you don't read any preamble and for that reason, I will keep this very spoiler proof.

No, it's not a thriller. The book is written from the perspective of one Kathy H, a student at Hailsham and about her greatly ordinary life. Over time as people grow older, we chance upon information about the bad bad world out there and learn to deal with it. So does Kathy, supported by some friends.

It's endearing in a way to see campus life in Hailsham and remember that my six years of campus life were similar. We all have things that seem so important at that stage within the confines of that word, that outside it they seem so silly. And that is what makes this book so very special. The author was able to look at the world through the eyes of this little child and then a young adult all the while. This is also what makes epics like To Kill a Mockingbird. May be that's why this book is now part of school curricula. The author did use the older Kathy H as the narrator looking back at her life, I suppose in the off chance that he found himself not sounding young enough. This flashback angle also allowed for a non linear narrative, going back and forth between different experiences at different ages but all muddled up and remembered as and when our older Kathy H pleases.

The story goes on and on through how people deal with different situations, like bullying, falling in love and hating someone for something silly, etc. It's not a great epic of changing the world. I mean the story has potential to make for an action sequence but the author chooses not to. Because we are not knights and most of us deal with unpleasant information by ignoring it and pretending like it does not affect us, which exactly what Kathy and her friends do most of time.

The melancholy that Murakami brings and the ordinary told extraordinarily that shapes up Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the marquee of loneliness that underlines their works are all themes that run in Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I just picked up his legendary piece of book, The Remains of the Day.