NW (Smith)

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

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—(see below)
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. Her parents divorced when she was a teenager.

As a child Smith was fond of tap dancing and as a teenager considered a musical theater career. When she was 14, she changed her name to "Zadie."

Smith attended Cambridge University where she earned money as a jazz singer and, at first, wanted to become a journalist. Despite those earlier ambitions, literature emerged as her principal interest. While an undergrad, 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.

White Teeth was introduced to the publishing world in 1997—long before completion. The partial manuscript fueled an auction among different houses for the publishing rights, but it wasn't until her final year at Cambridge that she finished the novel. When published in 2000, White Teeth became an immediate bestseller, praised internationally and pocketing a number of awards. In 2002, Channel 4 adapted the novel for television.

In interviews Smith 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, came out in 2002. It, too, achieved commercial success although the critical response was not as positive as it had been to White Teeth.

Following publication of The Autograph Man, Smith visited the United States as a 2002–2003 a Fellow at Harvard University. While there, she started work on a book of essays, some portions of which are included in a later essay collection titled Changing My Mind, published in 2009.

Her third novel, On Beauty came out in 2005. Set largely in and around Greater Boston, it attracted acclaim and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It won the 2006 Orange Prize.

Following a brief spell teaching fiction at Columbia University, Smith joined New York University as a tenured professor of fiction in 2010. That same year, The UK's Guardian newspaper asked Smith for her "10 rules for writing fiction." Among them, she offered up this:

Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand—but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.

During 2011, Smith served as the New Books editor at Harper's magazine, and in 2012, she published NW, her fourth novel, this one set in the Kilburn area of north-west London (the title refers to the area's postal code, NW6). NW was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Swing Time, Smith's fifth novel, was released in 2016, again to solid acclaim. The novel, a coming-of-age story, follows the fate of two girls of color who became fast friends through their mutual love of dance.

Personal Life
Smith met Nick Laird at Cambridge University, and the couple married in 2004. They have two children, Kathrine and Harvey, and are based in New York City and Queen's Park, London.

Awards and recognition
White Teeth (2000): Whitbread First Novel Award, James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Commonwealth Writers’ First Book Award.
The Autograph Man (2002): Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize
On Beauty (2005): Commonwealth Writers’ Best Book Award, Orange Prize
NW (2012): shortlisted for Ondaatje Prize and Women's Prize for Fiction
♦ General: Granta′s Best of Young British Novelists, 2003, 2013; Welt-Literaturpreis, 2016.

(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/31/2016.)

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

[An] excellent and captivating new novel, in which the lines dividing neighbors from strangers are not always clear or permanent.... 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 nove.... 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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