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So Caucasian

Emily Wilson: ZZ Packer

1 April 2004
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere 
by ZZ Packer.
Canongate, 238 pp., £9.99, February 2004, 1 84195 478 0
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... into fiction. But at her best, Packer combines her political vision with an impressive lightness of touch. She shows her range not by depicting people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, as ZadieSmith does, but by exploring the complexity of the black experience. There are several non-black characters in the collection, and one of the stories is set in Japan, but the non-blacks are always ...


Michael Wood: Chinese Whispers

8 August 2013
edited by Adam Thirlwell.
Portobello, 380 pp., £20, August 2013, 978 1 84627 537 1
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... context. And then there are travels that work and travels that don’t work – or don’t work well enough. There is a remarkable story here by Giuseppe Pontiggia, coolly and crisply translated by ZadieSmith, about an Italian boy who falls in love with practicality and his own sense of the way things really are: he can’t stand his father’s insistence on poetry and culture. He grows up, lives ...

The Slightest Sardine

James Wood: A literary dragnet

20 May 2004
The Oxford English Literary History. Vol. XII: 1960-2000: The Last of England? 
by Randall Stevenson.
Oxford, 624 pp., £30, February 2004, 0 19 818423 9
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... surrogates: A. Alvarez’s noisy essay ‘Beyond the Gentility Principle’ (the introduction to his anthology The New Poetry, which promoted Hughes and Plath over the stodgy Movement), Edward Lucie-Smith and, terrifyingly, Michael Horovitz, the editor of ‘one of the decade’s genuinely polemical anthologies: Children of Albion (1969)’. Stevenson’s fondness for Prynne over Larkin is less ...


Christopher Beha: Jeffrey Eugenides

6 October 2011
The Marriage Plot 
by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Fourth Estate, 406 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 0 00 744129 7
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... experimentation as the God That Failed. Raised on the modernist and postmodernist masters, these writers – among them Eugenides’s contemporary Jonathan Franzen and a younger cohort that includes ZadieSmith and Dave Eggers – have come to believe that too much was lost – in moral and emotional engagement, in readership – when realism was thrown over. As Franzen wrote in the New Yorker, ‘in ...

Each Cornflake

Ben Lerner: Knausgaard, Vol. 3

21 May 2014
My Struggle: Vol. 3. Boyhood Island 
by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett.
Harvill Secker, 490 pp., £12.99, March 2014, 978 1 84655 722 4
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... The problem is: it’s amazing. One sign that we’re having trouble accounting for Knausgaard’s power is that we keep likening his writing to a drug. ‘I need the next volume like crack,’ ZadieSmith writes. As the literary critic – and former junkie – Michael Clune has pointed out, we tend to reach for drug metaphors when we find ourselves taking pleasure in a book without being able ...

Bohumil Hrabal

James Wood: The life, times, letters and politics of Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal

4 January 2001
Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Harvill, 103 pp., £6.99, May 1998, 1 86046 215 4
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Too Loud a Solitude 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Abacus, 112 pp., £6.99, May 1997, 0 349 10262 7
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I Served the King of England 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Picador, 256 pp., £6.99, May 1990, 0 330 30876 9
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Closely Observed Trains 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Edith Partiger.
Abacus, 128 pp., £5.99, May 1990, 0 349 10125 6
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Total Fears: Letters to Dubenka 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by James Naughton.
Twisted Spoon Press, 203 pp., $13.50, June 1998, 80 902171 9 2
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... of those contemporary writers who are fond of abundant stories, exotic coloration, jokes and puns, and farcical escapism: Rushdie, Grass, Pynchon in his most recent novel, David Foster Wallace, even ZadieSmith. In novels by those writers, we have lately encountered terrorist groups with silly names, a genetically engineered mouse, two clocks having a conversation with each other, a giant cheese, a ...

Illuminating, horrible etc

Jenny Turner: David Foster Wallace

14 April 2011
Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace 
by David Lipsky.
Broadway, 320 pp., $16.99, 9780307592439
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The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel 
by David Foster Wallace.
Hamish Hamilton, 547 pp., £20, April 2011, 978 0 241 14480 0
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... in some ways, in others completely not. For a writer as self-conscious as Wallace, and so ethically acute, this would never be a straightforward process. In her essay on Wallace in Changing My Mind, ZadieSmith noticed his tendency to ‘romanticise the pure relations’ the wistful intellectual likes to imagine to exist ‘between simple people’ (she is discussing characters from Wallace’s short ...

As Many Pairs of Shoes as She Likes

Jenny Turner: On Feminism

15 December 2011
... guilty to stealing a television from a Comet in North London during the riots of 7 August. Her mother said she was ‘baffled’ by her own behaviour – she had a much nicer TV set at home. Shonola Smith, 22, pleaded guilty, along with her sister and a friend, to ‘entering’ Argos in Croydon: ‘The tragedy is that you are all of previous good character,’ the judge said, as he sentenced them to ...

You don’t mean dick to me

Lidija Haas: Amy Winehouse

15 July 2015
... started to unravel. The way she sings the line ‘I told you I was trouble’ from ‘You Know I’m No Good’, makes both told and trouble seem to end with a w; ‘this voice,’ the characters in ZadieSmith’s NW decide, ‘sounded like London – especially its Northern and North-Western zones – as if its owner were patron saint of their neighbourhoods.’ Throughout Back to Black, her glottal ...


Alan Bennett: Allelujah!

3 January 2019
... who has read it more perceptively than I have and followed Saunders’s thought and imagination better than I can. It’s not my sort of book at all, but it leaves me wanting to read his other books. ZadieSmith thinks it a masterpiece and says so on the cover. Certainly it’s a new way of writing a novel.25 May, Yorkshire. To Leeds this morning in an empty train with neither of us feeling very clever ...

Come hungry, leave edgy

Sukhdev Sandhu: Brick Lane

9 October 2003
Brick Lane 
by Monica Ali.
Doubleday, 413 pp., £12.99, June 2003, 9780385604840
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... fundamentalist never having visited Bangladesh – she chooses to overlook. He is good-looking, ‘walked a straight line while others turned and stumbled’, and is very much the Millat character in ZadieSmith’s White Teeth. Karim is supposed to embody the dissonance and non-conformity of second-generation Bangladeshi youths. The focus of moral panic about Asian gangs, they should instead be ...

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