Ms. Hen has heard about this novel for years and years, and she has meant to read it for a long time, but it has always slipped her mind. She understands now what the hype is about, it’s an amazing novel, and she will do her hen best to do justice reviewing it.
This novel is about three families, told from different points of view throughout the novel. It’s mainly about Archie and Samad and their journey from fighting in World War II together, to becoming husbands to younger women and fathers later in life.
Many cultures inhabit this novel: Samad and his wife are Pakistani, Archie’s wife Clara is from Jamaica, and the Chaflens are part of the English middle class. Smith takes such care in describing each culture because she seems to know them all, and the voices of the characters speak distinctly from each other in a way that Ms. Hen has not read often in a novel before. It’s difficult to capture a voice of a character, but the author brings each one to life with vivaciousness.
Another aspect of this novel that Ms. Hen notices was the historical depth that encompasses the story. Turn the novel one way, and it’s about Bengal, and turn it the other way, and it’s about genetic advances in science. Ms. Hen was surprised by the way this novel twisted and turned and kept becoming something else. It’s mainly a novel about families, but the unique life within each family is what gives it its beauty.
The women characters are well written, but Ms. Hen was impressed by how well the male characters are well drawn as well. This is not a women’s novel, by any means, the men involved can be rough and disconcerting, but Ms. Hen enjoyed that aspect.
There are several mentions of chickens in WHITE TEETH, but Ms. Hen’s favorite passage was when Joshua Chaflen and Irie have a discussion about animal rights and chickens:
“Do you know how battery chickens live?”
Irie didn’t. Joshua explained. Cooped up for most of their poor chicken lives,
in total chicken darkness, packed together like chicken sardines in their
chicken shit and fed the worst kind of chicken grain.
Ms. Hen thinks this might be one of her all-time favorite chicken quotes from a novel. She knows that these facts are true, and it makes her a depressed hen, even though she does eat chicken at times. Blaspheme! She knows. But she’s just a purse.
A motif of teeth runs through this novel. It makes Ms. Hen think more about her teeth, and how she should take better care of them. She doesn’t want Irie to grow up to be a dentist, but she thinks it’s inevitable.
Ms. Hen thinks this is one of the best books she has read so far this year. She doesn’t know why it took her seventeen years to read it since it was first published, but the world is full of books she hasn’t read. A hen can dream of reading all the great books of the world, but there are eggs to lay and coops to fly away from, and time is precious, but limited.