Little Jokes

Tim: Ok, so I want to talk about a couple things that are not necessarily related, and at least one of which we’ve touched on already, but that have really stuck out to me about this book. I’m continuing to really enjoy this book, and these are the kind of things that have a lot to do with it. So first: I love just how clever Zadie Smith is with her little jokes and bits of observational humor. I think it does a ton to keep the book, well, just fun in the midst of a lot of heavy stuff. One example: chapter eight is called “Mitosis,” which is the name for the process of cell division, and it’s in this chapter that Samad hatches and carries out his plan to separate his twin sons from one another and send one of them back to Bangladesh.

Debby: It’s funny you mention that. I made the connection to “Mitosis” when Alsana spotted the connections between the twins’ lives. You might not have gotten there yet, but weird things happen to both brothers at the same time: they both faced death on the same day, both broke their noses, etc. There is an indisputable connection between the twins, both genetically and fatefully. But yes, I love how Smith weaves in things like that! One other little play that I found fun was the language Millat uses. It immediately reminded me of the slang used in “A Clockwork Orange”. When the hurricane hits and Millat saves his precious copy of that particular book, I gave myself a little pop-cultural pat on the back.

Tim: I haven’t quite made it to all that, but I loved the instance where Magid has his nose broken by a vase in Bangladesh and the narrator casts forward enough to tell us “and keep one eye on that vase, please, it is the same vase that will lead Magid by the nose to his vocation” (emphasis added). It’s so counter to the idea of a mother worrying for her child’s life, but it’s almost as though the humor-in-bad-taste of making such a joke is what keeps the whole book so lighthearted despite all the war and affairs and attempted suicide and such. And there seems to be a physical nexus for this, at least in this section of the book, which brings us to my second point: I love the invention of O’Connell’s Poolroom, the Irish pub run by Arabs. It is the most delightfully strange clash of culture and personalities.

Debby: Yes, that it quite a difficult bar to picture. I keep imagining it as a cross between a Denny’s diner and a 1920s speakeasy joint (not a very pretty picture is you ask me). But, I feel that’s kind of the icky feeling you’re supposed to get about these two men, too. They’re hanging out at this nasty place with obnoxious people to avoid the lives that they have constructed for themselves in the outside world. Samad has made a mess of his family/love life and Archie has never really achieved anything, so this is the only place they really “fit in”.

Tim: And that gets at something else. For the last long while, this has been Samad’s tale. I’m curious to get back to Archie sometime soon and see what he’s been up to.
Debby: I agree! I want to get back inside Clara’s head for a little while. It’s funny that at first we complained about all the switching and now we want it back…

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