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On Beauty


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About the Author

Zadie Smith was born in Northwest London in 1975 and still lives in the area. She is the author of White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, Changing My Mind, NW, and most recently Swing Time.


This is a superb novel, a many-cultured Middlemarch, but it's a rough one for an actor. James juggles a large cast of Brits and Yanks, middle- and working-class white, African-American, West Indian and African men and women, as well as street teens, wannabe street teens and don't-wannabe street teens. James has a beautiful, deep voice that at first seems antithetical to Smith's ship of fools, but he enhances the humor and pathos with vocal understatement. He helps give characters their rightful place in the saga. The parade of characters swirl around two antagonistic Rembrandt scholars in a Massachusetts college town. Howard Belsey is a self-absorbed, working-class British white man married to African-American Kiki and father to three cafe-au-lait children. Monty Kipps is a West Indian stuffed-shirt married to the generous Carlene, with a gorgeous daughter, Veronica. The book is funny and infuriating, crammed with multiple shades of love and lust, midlife and teenlife crises. Class, race and political conflicts are generally an integral part of a story that occasionally strays from its center. The theme of beauty as counterpoint to individual, family, cultural and social foibles and failures ribbons through the novel and wraps it up, perhaps to say that Beauty is, finally, the only Truth. Simultaneous release with the Penguin Press hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 1) (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Issues of beauty in art and life indeed ruffle the surface of this splendid work from the author of White Teeth. Englishman Howard Belsey teaches art history at a small New England college called Wellington; brisk daughter Zora wants to study with the celebrity poet on faculty, who is more than casually acquainted with Howard; and sensitive son Jerome's idea of healing a family rift is to take everyone to a performance of Mozart's requiem. Even rebellious Levi raps away; and Kiki, Howard's African American wife, once an activist, is now hugely overweight and struggling with her sense of self. But perhaps an even better title would have been "On Love," because it is the ties binding this family-and those coming apart-that really matter. Central to the action is both Howard's unfortunate fling and Jerome's summer adventure in London, when he falls briefly in love with the daughter of arch-conservative Trinidadian Monty Kipps, whom Howard regards as an enemy. When Monty ends up at Wellington that fall, the family map gets remade. With fully realized characters and a kaleidoscope of provocative issues, Smith has created a world you can truly enter. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-A hilarious comedy of manners in the tradition of Austen, Wharton, and Forster, to whom the author pays homage. She tackles class, race, and gender with acerbic wit and a wise eye for the complexities of modern life, in a 21st-century update of Howard's End. Beauty opens as hapless art historian Howard Belsey, a transplanted Englishman married to an African-American woman, returns to London to prevent his son from marrying the daughter of his academic rival, Monty Kipps. Jerome has fallen in love not just with Victoria, but with the entire family, whose Trinidadian, right-wing roots are a sharp contrast to the freewheeling liberalism of his own family. In the meantime, Belsey's other children, social activist Zora and Levi, who speaks only street slang and fancies himself from the 'hood, are each seeking the commitments and identities that will define their own lives. What results is a vivid portrait of marriage, family, the conflict between the political and the personal, and people's eternal affinity for self-deception. Teens will enjoy this romp through the labyrinth of relationships that help a family mature and find its beautiful moments.-Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Named one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly, Time, and Publishers Weekly, A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Denver Post, and Publishers Weeklybestseller, A Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Atlantic Monthly, Newsday, Christian Science Monitor, and Minneapolis Star Tribune Best Book of the Year, and Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize

"...[A] thoroughly original tale about families and generational change, about race and multiculturalism in millennial America, about love and identity and the ways they are affected by the passage of time. Ms. Smith possesses a captivating authorial voice-at once authoritative and nonchalant, and capacious enough to accommodate high moral seriousness, laid-back humor and virtually everything in between-and in these pages, she uses that voice to enormous effect, giving us that rare thing: a novel that is as affecting as it is entertaining, as provocative as it is humane." -Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times"Oh happy day when a writer as gifted as Zadie Smith fulfills her early promise with a novel as accomplished, substantive and penetrating as On Beauty. It's a thing of beauty indeed. In tackling grown-up issues of marriage, adultery, race, class, liberalism and aesthetics, she thrillingly balances engaging ideas with equally engaging characters. As good as she is with big ideas, Smith is even stronger at capturing family dynamics, the heartbreak of broken trust as well as the lovely connections between siblings. -The Los Angeles Times Book Review"In this sharp, engaging satire, beauty's only skin-deep, but funny cuts to the bone." -Kirkus Reviews"Smith's specialty is her ability to render the new world, in its vibrant multiculturalism, with a kind of dancing, daring joy. . . . Her plots and people sing with life. . . . One of the best of the year, a splendid treat. " -Chicago Tribune"On Beauty is a rollicking satire . . . a tremendously good read." -San Francisco Chronicle

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