NW (Smith)

NW
Zadie Smith, 2012
Penguin Group USA
416 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781594203978



Summary
This is the story of a city.

The northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between.

Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds.

And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell’s door, seeking help, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation...

Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners—Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan—as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end.

Depicting the modern urban zone—familiar to town-dwellers everywhere—Zadie Smith’s NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—October 27, 1975
Where—Hampstead, England, UK
Education—B.A., Cambridge University
Awards—Commonwealth Writers' First Book Award, the
   James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Whitbread Award,
   all 2000 (for White Teeth)
Currently—lives in New York City, New York and London, England


Early Life
Zadie Smith was born as Sadie Smith in the northwest London borough of Brent—a largely working-class area—to a Jamaican mother, Yvonne Bailey, and a British father, Harvey Smith. Her mother had grown up in Jamaica and emigrated to Britain in 1969. Zadie has a half-sister, a half-brother, and two younger brothers, one of whom is the rapper and stand-up comedian Doc Brown and the other is rapper Luc Skyz. As a child she was fond of tap dancing; as a teenager she considered a career as an actress in musical theatre; and as a university student she earned money as a jazz singer and wanted to become a journalist.

Her parents divorced when she was a teenager. When she was 14, she changed her name to "Zadie". Despite earlier ambitions, literature emerged as her principal interest and would provide a model for her future career.

Education
Smith attended the local state schools, Malorees Junior School and Hampstead Comprehensive School, and King's College, Cambridge University where she studied English literature. In an interview with The Guardian in 2000, Smith corrected a newspaper assertion that she left Cambridge with a double First. "Actually, I got a Third in my Part Ones," she said.

Zadie Smith seems to have been rejected for a place in the Cambridge Footlights by the popular British comedy double act Mitchell and Webb, while all three were studying at Cambridge University in the 1990s.

At Cambridge she published a number of short stories in a collection of new student writing called The Mays Anthology. These attracted the attention of a publisher, who offered her a contract for her first novel. Smith decided to contact a literary agent and was taken on by A.P. Watt. Smith returned to guest-edit the anthology in 2001.

Career
White Teeth was introduced to the publishing world in 1997, long before it was completed. On the basis of a partial manuscript an auction among different publishers for the rights started, with Hamish Hamilton being successful. Smith completed White Teeth during her final year at Cambridge. Published in 2000, the novel became a bestseller immediately. It was praised internationally and won a number of awards. The novel was adapted for television in 2002 by Channel 4. She also served as "writer in residence" at the ICA in London and subsequently published, as editor, an anthology of sex writing, Piece of Flesh, as the culmination of this role.

In interviews she reported that the hype surrounding her first novel had caused her to suffer a short spell of writer's block. Nevertheless, her second novel, The Autograph Man, was published in 2002 and was a commercial success, although the critical response was not as positive as it had been to White Teeth.

After the publication of The Autograph Man, Smith visited the United States as a 2002–2003 Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellow at Harvard University. She started work on a still unreleased book of essays, The Morality of the Novel, aka "Fail Better", in which she considers a selection of 20th-century writers through the lens of moral philosophy. Some portions of this book presumably are included in the essay collection Changing My Mind, published in November 2009.

The second novel was followed by another, On Beauty (2005), which is set largely in and around Greater Boston and which attracted more acclaim. This third novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction.

In December 2008 she guest-edited the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

After teaching fiction at Columbia University School of the Arts, she joined New York University as a tenured professor of fiction as of September 1, 2010.

Beginning with the March 2010 issue, extending until late 2011, Smith was the monthly New Books reviewer for Harper's Magazine.

Personal Life

Smith met Nick Laird at Cambridge University. They married in 2004 in the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge. Smith dedicated On Beauty to "my dear Laird". The couple lived in Monti, Rome, Italy, from November 2006 to 2007 and are now based between New York City and Queen's Park, London. They have a daughter, Katherine (Kit; born 2009). (Adapted from Wikipedia.) 



Book Reviews
This is a book in which you never know how things will come together or what will happen next... NW represents a deliberate undoing; an unpacking of Smith’s abundant narrative gifts to find a deeper truth, audacious and painful as that truth may be. The result is that rare thing, a book that is radical and passionate and real.
Anne Enright - New York Times Book Review


A boldly Joycean appropriation, fortunately not so difficult of entry as its great model... Like Zadie Smith’s much-acclaimed predecessor White Teeth (2000), NW is an urban epic."
Joyce Carol Oates - New York Review of Books


Smith has never been a writer who travels directly from A to B.... Smith is not interested in exploring the unbroken line of cause and effect. What NW does offer, in abundance, is the sense of being plunged with great immediacy into the lives of these characters and their neighborhood. How wonderful to have a new version of London to explore.
Boston Globe


A complicated novel that's endlessly fascinating.... The impression of Smith's casual brilliance is what constantly surprises, the way she tosses off insights about parenting and work that you've felt in some nebulous way but never been able to articulate. While her own voice can seem crisp and clinical, it's tinged with irony, and her dialogue ripples off the page in full stereo.... At times, reading NW is like running past a fence, catching only strips of light from the scene on the other side. Smith makes no accommodation for the distracted reader—or even the reader who demands a clear itinerary. But if you're willing to let it work on you, to hear all these voices and allow the details to come into focus when Smith wants them to, you'll be privy to an extraordinary vision of our age.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


If our everyday world suddenly turns dark, zany and lyrically weird one day, it's probably because Zadie Smith has learned how to control us all. In NW, Ms. Smith takes her courageous forays into the vernacular to new heights, using perspectives that are perhaps more native to her but in a form that feels brand new.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


[NW is] a real sign of how Smith has developed and grown. It is a terrific novel: deeply ambitious, an attempt to use literature as a kind of excavation, while at the same time remaining intensely readable, intensely human, a portrait of the way we live.
Los Angeles Times


The reader first meets Leah Hanwell at her most vulnerable (some might say gullible): at home, when the doorbell rings and in tumbles a desperate, unknown but not unfamiliar woman, pleading for money, which Leah provides. Although this incident soon fades into an awkward anecdote shared later at awkward gatherings, it introduces the framework of Smith's (White Teeth) excellent and captivating new novel, in which the lines dividing neighbors from strangers are not always clear or permanent. The book takes place in NW London, where characters intersect and circumvent one another's lives and, in the process, expose their ethnic distinctions and class transformations, their relationships and their secrets. Leah's childhood best friend Natalie Blake (formerly Keisha Blake) eventually becomes the primary focus and the contrast between the two women allows for some of the book's most compelling insights, namely the inevitability of vs. the disinterest in becoming a mother, which Natalie has done and Leah decisively has not. The book's middle section introduces Felix Cooper, a friend of neither woman, but whose fate will affect them both. Smith's masterful ability to suspend all these bits and parts in the amber which is London refracts light, history, and the humane beauty of seeing everything at once.
Publishers Weekly


It's been seven years since Smith last published a novel, so we're all really chaffing to read this one. NW stands for northwest, that is, northwest London, where a group of friends living on an estate make their way through school and on to adulthood, staying more or less true to their ideals.
Library Journal


A wildly ambitious jigsaw puzzle of a novel, one that shuffles pieces of chronology, identity, ethnicity and tone, undermining cohesion and narrative momentum as it attempts to encompass a London neighborhood that is both fixed and fluid.... Smith takes big risks here, but some might need to read this twice before all the pieces fit together, and more conventionally minded readers might abandon it in frustration.
Kirkus Reviews



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