On Beauty by Zadie Smith


Miraculous Zadie Smith. She manages to find beauty everywhere, to elevate the seemingly mundane to the sublime in this funny, touching story.

An homage to Howard’s End, this is the story of two families: the Kipps’s and the Belseys. Both are academic, from international mixed-race backgrounds but that is where the difference ends. The Belseys are Christians, Conservative and from North London are the seeming opposite of the Liberal aesthete Kipps’s.

The novel follows the families as their lives overlap and intertwine as the Belseys move from London the the East Coast Ivy League campus that is the home of the Kipps’s. Each of the characters struggles with their identities. Mid-life crises, affairs, teenage rebellion, and unlikely friendships follow as each looks at what it means to be a certain race, religion, gender, sexuality or class.

At heart though, it’s a family drama- and that’s where Smith’s talent lies. She takes all these high academic themes and shows how they play out in real life. This novel is the opposite to an academic paper on intersectionality of race and gender; following Kiki Kipps, the African-America housewife, navigate her way around a largely white campus is a practical demonstration.

The title is accurate, not because it looks at what beauty is, but because the novel itself is beautiful, with these characters wrapped in its witty, sharp, gorgeous prose.

Read: when you feel unsure of your place in the world.

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