White Teeth Read online


  Title Page

  International Acclaim




  ARCHIE 1974, 1945

  1. The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones

  2. Teething Trouble

  3. Two Families

  4. Three Coming

  5. The Root Canals of Alfred Archibald Jones and Samad Miah Iqbal

  SAMAD 1984, 1857

  6. The Temptation of Samad Iqbal

  7. Molars

  8. Mitosis

  9. Mutiny!

  10. The Root Canals of Mangal Pande

  IRIE 1990, 1907

  11. The Miseducation of Irie Jones

  12. Canines: The Ripping Teeth

  13. The Root Canals of Hortense Bowden

  14. More English Than the English

  15. Chalfenism Versus Bowdenism


  16. The Return of Magid Mahfooz Murshed Mubtasim Iqbal

  17. Crisis Talks and Eleventh-Hour Tactics

  18. The End of History Versus The Last Man

  19. The Final Space

  20. Of Mice and Memory

  About the Author


  International Acclaim for Zadie Smith’s

  White Teeth

  “An astonishingly assured debut, funny and serious, and the voice has real writerly idiosyncrasy. I was delighted by White Teeth and often impressed. It has . . . bite.”

  —Salman Rushdie

  “Not since Mary Shelley composed Frankenstein at the age of 19 has a bookish young woman made such an extraordinary debut.”

  —The Baltimore Sun

  “This extravagant novel bursts with optimism about people, about language. . . . Zadie Smith’s wide-eyed enthusiasm is contagious.”

  —The Philadelphia Inquirer

  “As gut-busting and auspicious a debut novel as Pynchon’s V.”

  —The Village Voice

  “White Teeth is a white hot debut.”

  —Vanity Fair

  “White Teeth is a wild and generous ride, unstinting on comedy and electric with ideas.”

  —Talk Magazine

  “An astonishing debut. White Teeth shines in the dark.”


  “[White Teeth] is a magnificent and audacious novel, jam packed with memorable characters and challenging ideas.”

  —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  “A writer of mighty potential.”

  —The Times Literary Supplement

  “A rich, ambitious, and often hilarious delight.”

  —The Independent

  “Poised and relentlessly funny. . . . A major new talent.”

  —The Guardian

  To my mother and my father.

  And for Jimmi Rahman

  What is past is prologue

  —Inscription in Washington, D.C., museum


  I am grateful to both Lisa and Joshua Appignanesi for contriving between them to get me a room of my own when it was most required. Thanks are due to Tristan Hughes and Yvonne Bailey-Smith for providing two happy homes for this book and its author. I am also indebted to the bright ideas and sharp eyes of the following people: Paul Hilder, friend and sounding-board; Nicholas Laird, fellow idiot savant; Donna Poppy, meticulous in everything; Simon Prosser, as judicious an editor as one could hope for; and finally my agent, Georgia Garrett, from whom nothing escapes.


  1974, 1945

  Every little trifle, for some reason, does seem incalculably important today and when you say of a thing that “nothing hangs on it” it sounds like blasphemy. There’s never any knowing—how am I to put it?—which of our actions, which of our idlenesses won’t have things hanging on it for ever.

  —E. M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread


  The Peculiar Second Marriage of Archie Jones

  Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 0627 hours on January 1, 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate facedown on the steering wheel, hoping the judgment would not be too heavy upon him. He lay in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed on either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signaling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by the results. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact, it was a New Year’s resolution.

  But even as his breathing became spasmodic and his lights dimmed, Archie was aware that Cricklewood Broadway would seem a strange choice. Strange to the first person to notice his slumped figure through the windshield, strange to the policemen who would file the report, to the local journalist called upon to write fifty words, to the next of kin who would read them. Squeezed between an almighty concrete cinema complex at one end and a giant intersection at the other, Cricklewood was no kind of place. It was not a place a man came to die. It was a place a man came to in order to go other places via the A41. But Archie Jones didn’t want to die in some pleasant, distant woodland, or on a cliff edge fringed with delicate heather. The way Archie saw it, country people should die in the country and city people should die in the city. Only proper. In death as he was in life and all that. It made sense that Archibald should die on this nasty urban street where he had ended up, living alone at the age of forty-seven, in a one-bedroom flat above a deserted chip shop. He wasn’t the type to make elaborate plans—suicide notes and funeral instructions—he wasn’t the type for anything fancy. All he asked for was a bit of silence, a bit of shush so he could concentrate. He wanted it to be perfectly quiet and still, like the inside of an empty confessional or the moment in the brain between thought and speech. He wanted to do it before the shops opened.

  Overhead, a gang of the local flying vermin took off from some unseen perch, swooped, and seemed to be zeroing in on Archie’s car roof—only to perform, at the last moment, an impressive U-turn, moving as one with the elegance of a curve ball and landing on the Hussein-Ishmael, a celebrated halal butchers. Archie was too far gone to make a big noise about it, but he watched them with a warm internal smile as they deposited their load, streaking white walls purple. He watched them stretch their peering bird heads over the Hussein-Ishmael gutter; he watched them watch the slow and steady draining of blood from the dead things—chickens, cows, sheep—hanging on their hooks like coats around the shop. The Unlucky. These pigeons had an instinct for the Unlucky, and so they passed Archie by. For, though he did not know it, and despite the Hoover tube that lay on the passenger seat pumping from the exhaust pipe into his lungs, luck was with him that morning. The thinnest covering of luck was on him like fresh dew. While he slipped in and out of consciousness, the position of the planets, the music of the spheres, the flap of a tiger moth’s diaphanous wings in Central Africa, and a whole bunch of other stuff that Makes Shit Happen had decided it was second-chance time for Archie. Somewhere, somehow, by somebody, it had been decided that he would live.

  The Hussein-Ishmael was owned by Mo Hussein-Ishmael, a great bull of a man with hair that rose and fell in a quiff, then a ducktail. Mo believed that with pigeons you have to get to the root of the problem: not the excretions but the pigeon itself. The shit is not the shit (this was Mo’s mantra), the pigeon is the shit. So the morning of Archie’s almost-death began as every morning in the Hussein-Ishmael, with Mo resting his huge belly on the windowsill, leaning out and swinging a meat cleaver in an attempt to halt the flow of dribb