Tag Archives: Zadie Smith

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

Feel Free - Essays by Zadie Smith Title: Feel Free: Essays
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0241146897
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

My association with the works of Zadie Smith started somewhere in 2003, with White Teeth. It was one of those books that are actually unputdownable (I have always been of the opinion that terms such as these are nothing but marketing gimmicks). Since then, Smith has been one of my favourite writers and with good reason. Her prose is like biting into a plum – tart and sweet and almost awakens you from your stupor. It makes you stand up and take notice of how the world works and perhaps what it always was. Smith doesn’t mince her words. Her characters are everyday people who speak their mind and this is also reflective in her new collection of essays, aptly or ironically (given the world we live in) titled, “Feel Free”.

“Feel Free” to me is one of the books of our times. The kind of book that doesn’t preach but makes so many relevant points that you want to see the world and put it so eloquently as Smith does. It is the collection of essays which are spread over five sections – In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf and Feel Free. These sections pose questions that we recognize and perhaps want answers to: What is the Social Network? What is joy and what is the tolerance of it, if there is something like it? How many kinds of boredom make up life? Who owns the narrative of black America? There are many such questions over a diverse range of topics and that’s what makes Zadie’s essays stand out.

Feel Free speaks of pop culture, culture, social change, political debate, the ever-changing fabric of society and what it really means to be human in the 21st century. Some of these essays have appeared before and some are new. At the same time, all of them are relevant and essential to most areas of our lives.

Smith’s essays are sometimes written with the perspective of an insider, but mostly she is an outsider looking in. It isn’t difficult to understand Smith and to me that was the most brilliant aspect of this collection. For instance, when she writes about a book, you want to get up and go read it. When she speaks of Joni Mitchell, you just want to listen to “River” and “Circle Game” on loop. To me, that is the power of great writing.

Essays are often tough to read and since they are so personal in nature, it becomes even more difficult to gauge the place they are coming from. This does not happen when you are reading “Feel Free”. Zadie’s essays are personal and yet appeal to all. The universal quality of her words is too strong to not be understood and related to. “Feel Free” is the collection of essays that needs to be savoured and pondered on. The one that you will not forget easily.

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Book Review: NW by Zadie Smith

Title: NW
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241144145
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always enjoyed reading Zadie Smith’s books. They are complex and yet charming. At the same time, they leave you with lingering thoughts about the societies we live in and the nature of humans. I remember not enjoying, “White Teeth” the first time I read it. However, when I did read it the second time, I was captivated by her style of writing. The same happened with, “The Autograph Man”. I loved, “On Beauty” and her collection of essays, “Changing My Mind”. Now to her latest offering: NW.

“NW” – refers to North West London. The story revolves around its residents. The book is about their loves, sorrows, hypocrisies, ambitions, facades, prejudices and fears. The novel is about the four central characters on different rungs of the moralistic and social ladder. Each character is a world of their own in the book and that is what makes this book special and intriguing. This is perhaps Smith’s shortest book and yet with so many layers to it – almost like a Russian Doll, that never ceases to amaze you.

Leah Hanwell is married to an African named Michel. She has a troubled marriage and shares a love/hate relationship with her husband. There is then her friend Natalie (formerly known as Keisha), who is trying to grapple with her present and stick on to the past in the form of Leah. Nathan, Leah’s childhood friend is the third major character who is a weed-smoking, almost jobless wastrel. He feels that Leah and he are now worlds apart and cannot connect anymore. Felix Cooper is the fourth major character of the book who craves for a better life than the one he is leading right now. Their lives converge and that takes the book forward.

What appealed to me the most about the book besides the plot was the writing and the way the characters were sketched. The characters are real. They are not sentimental or emotional. They are human and display emotions in an understated manner. The writing is unconventional and fragmented and maybe it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it definitely worked for me.

“NW” has been written by Smith after seven long years. The story when looked at it from that perspective almost seems fresh and that I attribute only to her writing, which is razor-sharp, taut and amusing at most times.

“NW” is all about people trying to make sense of their lives, when directionless and sometimes lost on hope. There is a lot going on in the book and at the same time, Zadie Smith allows you to take it all in and rest a little with your thoughts and emotions. It was a cracker of a read for me this year and I will definitely re-read it sometime later.

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