January, 2019 White Teeth by Zadie Smith

(Book #105) Linda hosted our first meeting of 2019 and the theme of women’s debut novels. Below is the summary email I sent in the wee hours of the next morning!

Dear Linda,
I want to thank you for such a lovely evening but first I have to explain something that I only recently learned from Zadie Smith, say it with me, Zadie Smith:
Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.

I’m going to extrapolate that every moment happens twice for each person involved in the moment which means that while we were in your kitchen (for the last time at 430 W Armitage) drinking wine and eating the yummy samosas with hummus, black olive tapenade, crackers and cheese crisps, there were actually twelve histories going on — twelve histories every moment –twelve histories upon which I can only speculate.
I know that at one moment my inside history was How many of these samosas can I eat before Linda moves the plate by Melissa and Susan in the hope that they might have at least one?
I’m guessing that some of our inside moments may have been spent in New Orleans wondering if we would bump into my grandson’s brain (1) there, but the rest is mystery.

Then there were the moments when we served ourselves rice and amazing lamb curry (Jamaican curry for a nod to another culture represented in the book) which we topped with a dollop of mango chutney. On the inside I thought this chutney makes it extra super incredibly delicious. (Official gastronomic terms: see Larousse Gastronomique.) We ate the lamb curry with a delicious side salad and warmed pita. That must have taken a good 40 moments times two equals 80 times six equals 480. We’re jumping from gastronomical to astronomical and I’m not good with numbers.

To round out the meal, there was the moment when in honor of Britannia:
Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful from each foreign stroke,
As the loud blast that tears the skies
Serves but to root thy native oak.

Sticky Toffee Pudding was served for dessert! God Save The Queen!

Noted below are some of the outside moments that I can recall:
We spoke of the opening sequence of the book and I complained that while I loved that Archie’s life is saved by having parked where he wasn’t allowed, the book that follows doesn’t seem to be the story that the intro sets up. (I might have been on my own with this moment.)
We appreciated the author’s clever use of language such as “at any time of day, corduroy is a highly stressful fabric.” and how bus tickets are like “little alibis.”
Linda and Chris talked about having tried to read On Beauty and Chris felt compelled to finish White Teeth because she’d given up on Smith’s more recent book.
Melissa was bothered by the abrupt ending — she felt that after reading repeated references to Mangal Pande, the great hero of the Indian Mutiny, she deserved more of an ending than the 3-4 pages allotted to the book’s conclusion.
Susan and Geri admitted to having read very little of the book. Geri played her Cancer Card (2) (and before you start shaming me for my insensitivity, she said it, not me) and Susan said she picked it up several times, but put it back down moments later, unable to work up the necessary interest.
Chris mentioned Alsana’s fear of what we refer to in America as the melting pot — the fear of her cultural history becoming invisible after a few generations. This led, I think, to a discussion of cultural values in America and whether they’ve been only recently perverted or whether they were never anything to write home about.
We appreciated the women (with the exception of Joyce) more than the men and at least two of us didn’t know that Jehovah’s Witnesses have gone out on a limb trying to predict the date of the end of the world.
Chris wondered about the amount of autobiography is written into Irie in that Zadie Smith has a Jamaican mother and a British father. I loved Irie’s speech when both families are on the bus when she tells them all to “shut it” and talks about how some families are quiet all the time and while some might say they are repressed or emotionally stunted, she says “lucky fuckers. Lucky, lucky fuckers”
Linda said she was regularly familiar with the bus lines and mention of the London streets and neighborhoods.(3)
Everyone talked about their plantar fasciitis, and Linda demonstrated a ridiculously robust exercise to combat it. (4)
Linda and I surmised that while there was once, it is unlikely that there is Mrsa in either of our fathers’ noses. (5)
Karen and Marcia gave us the week of February 18 for next month’s meeting and we decided to meet for a discussion of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate on Tuesday, February 19 at Marcia’s home in Evanston.

I seem to be about 461 histories short — maybe some of the girls can help me.
I’ll just close by saying that Linda was such a lovely hostess tonight — right on the heels of one of the most staggering moments in life. A toast to Linda and her Dad.

Respectfully submitted at 2:51 am,

Realizing that some of my references will make no sense to most readers or even to us years from now, I’m going to explain the numbered items:

(1) My husband, daughter, 5-year-old grandson and I took the City of New Orleans train to New Orleans just prior to this meeting. My grandson enjoyed the visit so much that while we sat in the train station waiting for our return trip, he told us, “My brain didn’t want to leave New Orleans, so it’s still at the hotel.”

(2) Just before our December meeting, Geri was diagnosed with breast cancer, but in between diagnosis and surgery, she attended the December meeting and after surgery and before the start of radiation therapy, she attended the January meeting — proving that she is made of strong stuff and that you can’t find more comfort than with friends.

(3) Linda’s work had required her to live in London and the mention of the streets and stops were a familiar reminder of her time there.

(4) We are all getting old but Linda is one of our younger members and is able to do things that others of us have only a vague memory of once doing.

(5) Linda was mentioning the problem of prolonged hospitalization and the occurrence of Mrsa. She noted that her father had it in his nose. Geri (remember the Cancer Card) spoke before thinking and asked “Does he still have it?” but Linda just lost her father at Christmas time. Linda’s reaction was priceless. Stopped in her tracks she said “Well I don’t know, but it would take quite an effort to find that out.” I had to chime in with how I was pretty sure that my Dad ( who died in 1994) was Mrsa free by now.