"Its been call the Howards End for the 21st century: liberals and conservatives, black and white, female and male, rich and poor, all thrown together with amusing, heartbreaking and all-too-human results. I couldnt decide if the book was a satire, a homage to EM Forster, or a book for the new century. Read more...
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"Its been call the Howards End for the 21st century: liberals and conservatives, black and white, female and male, rich and poor, all thrown together with amusing, heartbreaking and all-too-human results. I couldnt decide if the book was a satire, a homage to EM Forster, or a book for the new century. I decided it was all three. "
Marlo Thomas - Writer
What We're Reading Now
"Each character Smith creates seems to become real, and the reader can relate to all of them despite their very different vantage points within the novel. "
Rhiannon Antweiler - Books-A-Million, Williamsburg, VA
Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn't like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.
Then Jerome, Howard's older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?
Set on both sides of the Atlantic, Zadie Smith's third novel is a brilliant analysis of family life, the institution of marriage, intersections of the personal and political, and an honest look at people's deceptions. It is also, as you might expect, very funny indeed.
The colorful complexities of human ties
In her third novel, following her smash debut White Teeth (written when she was only 21) and well-received sophomore effort Autograph Man, Zadie Smith takes readers inside the minds and hearts of the Belsey family. In this absorbing tale, Smith explores the fragile bonds that exist between husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and lovers and friends. She also provides a vivid portrayal of the sheltered and often claustrophobic world of academia.
Howard Belsey is a left-wing professor at Wellington, a small liberal arts college in a New England town of the same name. A white English intellectual, he is married to Kiki, a corpulent but beautiful black woman who works as a hospital administrator. Their marriage is in trouble; Howard has recently had an affair with a colleague, and Kiki is shattered, although loath to let anyone in on her devastation.
Their three children are coping with issues of their own. Oldest son Jerome is recovering from an aborted romance with Victoria Kipps, daughter of Monty Kipps, Howard's zealously right-wing academic rival. Daughter Zora, herself an academically driven intellectual, suffers from feelings of physical inferiority; when she meets Carl, an extremely handsome, lower-class slam poet from Boston, she is determined to bring him into her worldbut does she want to save him or save herself? Levi, the youngest, is a teenage pseudo-thug and hip-hop fan who wants nothing more than to retain his street cred in the midst of his woefully upper-crust universe.
The story of the Belsey family and the people in their lives is skillfully woven. Particularly effective is the rendering of the unexpected friendship that unfolds between Kiki and Carlene Kipps, Monty's seriously ill wife. Smith's dialogue is colorful; she writes in sometimes over-the-top colloquial speech, encompassing everything from Caribbean to urban dialect. Her characters are seriously flawed, yet it is easy to care about them alleven the insufferable Howard. Fans of White Teeth will find much to love about this book.
Rebecca K. Stropoli writes from New York City.