This is a funny book. White Teeth is about a whole bunch of things — growing up an immigrant in 1980s London, the feelings of displacement at trying to make a living in another country, World War II, Muslim fundamentalism, atheism, science, and alienation. Archie Jones marries Clara, a Jamaican immigrant and daughter of Jehovah’s Witness Hortense while his best friend and Bengladeshi immigrant Samad Miah Iqbal marries (the much younger) Alsana via an arranged marriage. They have Irie and the twins Magid and Millat, respectively. As Samad watches the children grow up, he wrestles with feelings of alienation and makes a fateful decision to send one son back home to Bangladesh to be raised "properly" while keeping the other one in London. They all intertwine with the Chalfens, an Oxford-educationed Jewish-English family.
The plot is a bit thin as is in any post-modernist novel drawn as a "portrait of a life" but the characters are compelling and distinct. Where these novels fall down are thin characterizations that cannot carry the narrative but that is not the case here. The women, especially, are clear and real and each one different than the rest. They aren’t just thin caricatures designed to hang off the main character’s arms and spout platitudes. They feel like flesh and blood.
For a longish book, it is a surprisingly quick and easy read. Highly recommended.