Zadie Smith – On Beauty

Last modified: February 9, 2018

A sparkling epic on the rivalry between two families whose fathers and daughters are both, respectively, tutors and students at the same New England college. The two fathers are engaged in a long war of attrition about the works of Rembrandt. Family A is black, conservative, Christian and comes from London, but its intimidatingly attractive teenage daughter carves a trail of destruction in her amorous adventures with both the son from family B and his father, a white butcher’s son, also from London, married to a black woman from the American South.

The storyline is both tragic and comic, the dialogues superb and sometimes quotable for the way they perfectly encapsulate the disruptive influence of racist, conservative and liberal standpoints in the academic debate. But above all this book is about the turbulent rites of passage in life. The teenagers are desperate to break away from their parents and find their own identity, whilst the adults are finding it difficult to make the transition to a more reflective phase of life and to keep their relationship with their partner alive.

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