- Published: 2016
- Number of pages: 464 pages
- Format: Epub
- File Size: 0.67 MB
- Authors: Zadie Smith
An ambitious, exuberant new novel moving from North West London to West Africa, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and On Beauty.
Two brown girls dream of being dancers—but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.
Tracey makes it to the chorus line but struggles with adult life, while her friend leaves the old neighborhood behind, traveling the world as an assistant to a famous singer, Aimee, observing close up how the one percent live.
But when Aimee develops grand philanthropic ambitions, the story moves from London to West Africa, where diaspora tourists travel back in time to find their roots, young men risk their lives to escape into a different future, the women dance just like Tracey—the same twists, the same shakes—and the origins of a profound inequality are not a matter of distant history, but a present dance to the music of time.
Zadie Smith’s newest book, Grand Union, published in 2019.
Amazon.com Review An Amazon Best Book of November 2016: In Swing Time, Zadie Smith handles race, class, and long-term friendship with grace and apparent ease. Two young black girls grow up in the same low income project in North London, both interested in dance, only one actually good at it. As they mature, their lives diverge. One actually becomes a dancer, the other goes on to be the assistant to a pop star. There’s something magical about reading Zadie Smith when she’s really on, and this book skillfully builds out each character—using hopes, wants, personal history, relationships, status, and even geography to delineate each person’s life. It’s fitting to compare Smith’s talents to a dancer’s, but it’s more accurate to admit she’s just a damn good novelist. –Chris Schluep, The Amazon Book Review Review “This is a story at once intimate and global, as much about childhood friendship as international aid, as fascinated by the fate of an unemployed single mother as it is by the omnipotence of a world-class singer . . . Smith’s attention to the grace notes of friendship is as precise as ever . . . Swing Time uses its extraordinary breadth and its syncopated structure to turn the issues of race and class in every direction…We finally have a big social novel nimble enough to keep all its diverse parts moving gracefully toward a vision of what really matters in this life when the music stops.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post“A dance itself, syncopated, unexpected, and vital . . . Swing Time may not parse easily and fits no mold, but it is uncommonly full of life.” —Claire Messud, The New York Review of Books “A multilayered tour-de-force . . . Smith burnishes her place in the literary firmament with her fifth novel . . . The work is so absorbing that a reader might flip it open randomly and be immediately caught up. Its precision is thrilling even as it grows into a book-length meditation on cultural appropriation, played out on a celebrity-besotted global stage . . . Smith’s novels are set in motion by character, complex portraits that are revelatory of race and class.” —Karen Long, Los Angeles Times “Brilliant . . . With Swing Time, Zadie Smith identifies the impossible contradiction all adults are asked to maintain—be true to yourself, and still contain multitudes; be proud of your heritage, but don’t be defined by it. She frays the cords that keep us tied to our ideas of who we are, to our careful self-mythologies. Some writers name, organize, and contain; Smith lets contradictions bloom, in all their frightening, uneasy splendor.” —Annalisa Quinn, NPR.org “Smith’s most affecting novel in a decade, one that brings a piercing focus to her favorite theme: the struggle to weave disparate threads of experience into a coherent story of a self . . . As the book progresses, she interleaves chapters set in the present with ones that deal with memories of college, of home, of Tracey. It is a graceful technique, this metronomic swinging back and forth in time . . . The novel’s structure feels true to the effect of memory, the way we use the past as ballast for the present. And it feels true, too, to the mutable structure of identity, that complex, composite ‘we,’ liable to shift and break and reshape itself as we recall certain pieces of our earlier lives and suppress others.” —Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker“Every once in a while, a novel reminds us of why we still need them. Building upon the promise of White Teeth, written almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith’s Swing Time boldly reimagines the classically English preoccupation with class and status for a new era—in which race, gender, and the strange distortions of contemporary celebrity meet on a global stage . . . No detail feels extraneous, least of all the book’s resonant motif, the sankofa bird, with its backward-arching neck—suggestive less of a dancer than of an author, looking to her origins to understand the path ahead.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue“[Smith] revisits familiar themes from her previous books—multicultural society, family, race, identity—but her convictions are stronger and her scope wider . . . A powerful story of lives marred by secrets, unfulfilled potential and the unjustness of the world. But she has interwoven it with another beautiful story of the dances people do to rise above it all.” —The Economist “As soulful as it is crafty.” —Lena Dunham, Lenny“Wise and illuminating . . . Smith is a master stylist, delivering revelatory sentences in prose that never once veers into showiness.” —USA Today“Culturally rich, globally aware and politically sharp . . . One sentence of Zadie Smith can entertain you for several minutes . . . Both a stunning writer on the sentence level and a cunning, trap-setting, theme-braiding storyteller, with Swing Time Zadie Smith has written one of her very best books.” —Newsday “A brimming love of humanity in all its mad and perplexing forms animates [Smith’s] fiction, along with a lifelong infatuation with the city of London . . . Swing Time can rightly be called a return to the kind of fiction Smith does best . . . Sparkling.” —Laura Miller, Slate “Smith’s thrilling cultural insights never overshadow the wholeness of her characters, who are so keenly observed that one feels witness to their lives.” —O, The Oprah Magazine“Absorbing . . . Smith tackles meaty subjects—including friendship and race—with her customary insight and grace.” —People “Smith delivers a page-turner that’s also beautifully written (a rare combo), but best of all, she doesn’t sidestep the painful stuff.” —Glamour, “November’s Must Read”“A sweeping meditation on art, race, and identity that may be [Smith’s] most ambitious work yet.” —Esquire “Transfixing, wide-ranging (from continents to emotions to footwork).” —Marie Claire “A thoughtful tale of two childhood BFFs whose shared passion for dance takes them on wildly divergent life paths.” —Cosmopolitan “[Swing Time] makes a remarkable leap in technique. Smith has become increasingly adept at combining social comedy and more existential concerns—manners and morals—through the flexibility of her voice, layering irony on feeling and vice versa. In a culture that often reduces identity politics to a kind of personal branding, Smith works the same questions into a far deeper (and more truly political) consideration of what it takes to form a self . . . Swing Time’s great achievement is its full-throated and embodied account of the tension between personal potential and what is actually possible.” —The New Republic “Vibrant . . . [An] agile, propulsive coming-of-age novel . . . Smith’s humor is both sharp and sly as she skewers various targets, including humorless, petty social activists and celebrity culture’s inflated sense of importance.” —San Francisco Chronicle “Splendid . . . The narrator’s wry voice, mostly sharply self-aware but occasionally painfully not so, is just one of the strengths of Swing Time . . . Filled with energy and grace.” —Tampa Bay Times “Zadie Smith constantly amazes us with the dexterity of her voice—or better yet, voices…In her latest offering, Smith returns to North West London with new characters and an uncanny ability to explore the complex nature of racism and its impact on individuals and the community.” —Essence “Remarkable . . . Smith is far too skilled and entertaining a storyteller to deliver lectures, but race and class linger subtly underneath all the events unfolding in Swing Time . . . [A] rich, compelling novel.” —Dallas Morning News “In each subsequent work [since White Teeth, Smith] has ever more subtly charted the fraught territory where individual experience negotiates social norms. In Swing Time, her first novel in the first person, the transaction becomes more focused and personal, and its cost to the individual powerfully and poignantly clear.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune “In her ability to capture the ferocity and fragility of such [childhood] relationships, Smith resembles Elena Ferrante.” —Boston Globe “Not just a friendship but our whole mad, unjust world comes under Smith’s beautifully precise scrutiny.” —New York Magazine“The narrator’s unaffected voice masks the structural complexity of this novel, and its density. Every scene, every attribute pays off.” —TIME Magazine “Smith is one of our best living critics, and she has transposed the instructive, contagious voice of her essays into Swing Time. Like Smith the critic, Smith the novelist encourages us to explore what has so enchanted her. Following the narrator, we too can be mesmerized by clips of [Jeni] LeGon, by the feats of the Nicholas brothers, and retrieve what risks being lost to the past. Swing Time is criticism set to fiction, like dance is set to music. One complements—and animates—the other.” —The Atlantic “As ever, the beauty of Smith’s work is in the grace and empathy with which she crafts her characters.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch “The richness of ‘Swing Time’ lies in Ms. Smith’s spot-on descriptions.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “Stunning.” —SELF “Swing Time is Zadie Smith’s fifth novel and for my money her finest.” —The Guardian “As intricate and beautiful as a ballet . . . A terrific book from one of our greatest novelists.” —Vox“Female friendship has become a literary focus in recent years, and Zadie Smith’s take on the subject in Swing Time is my favourite. Tracing the evolution of a childhood friendship into adulthood, she bracingly portrays the compromises and bargains we all eventually make. Smith’s idiosyncratic gaze and keen, supple prose transform and elevate everything she touches.” —Jennifer Egan, The Guardian’s Best Books of 2017 “A beautiful and accomplished novel that will stir in readers all of those uncomfortable but necessary feelings of nostalgia.” —Bustle “Where [Smith] really shines is in creating characters so fully realized, you actually forget that they’re fictional.” —PureWow “Meaty, long and complex, with sub-explorations that could each be a novella or short story . . . The most satisfying contemporary reading experience I’ve had since I discovered Elena Ferrante.” —Flavorwire “Frustrating and fascinating—and all the while gloriously human—Smith’s characters take us through an entrancing exploration of subjects such as race, class, friendship, talent, and much more, giving us the world in all its great complexity and contradiction.” —Buzzfeed, “Best Fiction Books Of 2016” “Mesmerizing.” —Chicago Tribune “A far-reaching, serio-comic rumination on race, privilege and profound relationships between mothers and daughters, friends and rivals, idols and followers.” —The Seattle Times “This is a novel that will sweep you up in its rhythms.” —Bustle “Engrossing . . . A compelling, readable and weighty novel that ponders what our relationships say about us and how complicit we are in our own fate.” —Town & Country “I can’t deny the spell cast by Swing Time, Zadie Smith’s latest. I can’t hold back from declaring it first a career peak, one she’ll be hard-pressed to top, and beyond that a steep challenge for any novelist out there. Smith might well have left a whole host of her contemporaries cold-cocked . . . If anyone’s delivering reliable intel from the frontiers of the 21st century cosmopolis, it’s Zadie Smith.” —Brooklyn Rail “The incomparable cultural force that is Zadie Smith continues her legacy of acute portrayals of carefully chosen slices of modern life . . . A keenly-felt exploration of friendship, race, fame, motherhood and the ineluctable truth that our origins will forever determine our fates.” —Harper’s Bazaar, Best Books of 2016 “A virtuoso performance, filled with distinct and nuanced observations about dance, race, class, celebrity, global culture, appropriation and the special intimacies between girlfriends and between mothers and daughters.” —BBC.com “The day a new Zadie Smith book comes out should be a national holiday.” —LitHub “The book feels like the culmination of all her talents: a novel with a gift for character and dialogue, a story rooted in a deep cultural and racial awareness.” —Kevin Nguyen, Book of the Month “Agile and discerning . . . With homage to dance as a unifying force, arresting observations . . . exceptionally diverse and magnetizing characters, and lashing satire, Swing Time is an acidly funny, fluently global, and head-spinning novel about the quest for meaning, exaltation, and love . . . This tale of friendship lost and found is going to be big.” —Booklist (starred) “The narrative moves deftly and absorbingly between its increasingly tense coming-of-age story and the adult life of the sympathetic if naïve and sometimes troubling narrator . . . A rich and sensitive drama highly recommended for all readers.” —Library Journal (starred)“A keen, controlled novel about dance and blackness steps onto a stage of cultural land mines . . . Smith is dazzling in her specificity, evoking predicaments, worldviews, and personalities with a camera-vivid precision . . . Moving, funny, and grave, this novel parses race and global politics with Fred Astaire’s or Michael Jackson’s grace.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred) “As ever, Smith plies her signature humor and sensitivity as she traces the contours of race and lived experience.” —ELLE.com’s Must-Read Books for Fall “[A] powerful and complex novel . . . Rich and absorbing, especially when it highlights Smith’s ever-brilliant perspective on pop culture.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
Reviews from Amazon users, collected at the time the book is getting published on UniedVRG. It can be related to shiping or paper quality instead of the book content:
⭐ I am so sick of reading books where in the end you just don’t care about any of the people in them. That seems to be a dominant theme in a lot of these Booker Prize listed books. I have now read a number of them and I can say Swing Time mirrors the others. A plot that never really goes anywhere, and unlikeable characters’ stories woven in chapters in different times. For some reason this story kept me plodding through but with little satisfaction in the end. One person mentioned that we didn’t even learn the heroine’s name. That was purposeful on Smith’s part, I am sure, as she never became anyone, never broke out of her bubble, was only defined by her roles with others. Sad and unrewarding in the end.
⭐ Swing Time by Zadie SmithSwing Time, a multifaceted story of two biracial girls growing up in significantly different homes who become inseparable friends but face divergent destinies.Tracey and the Narrator (unnamed) meet in 1982 as they are both signing up for a ballet class at a church in a working-class section of London. Both are mixed race with the narrator having a black intellectual ambitious mother (of Caribbean descent) while her white father who is nurturing but less ambition. Tracey’s mother, on the other hand is white, ignorant, indulgent and unattractive and her criminal father spends most of his time in jail leaving Tracey morally directionless. Tracey has the talent and ends up on stage with a dancing career while the narrator begins work as a personal assistant to an Australian Madonna-like pop star named Aimee. Aimee decides to build a school for girls in West Africa and the narrator takes on the complicated dynamics of working in a country entrenched in poverty and old beliefs taking assignments from a unstable boss. She reports, “I scheduled abortions, hired dog walkers, ordered flowers, wrote Mother’s Day cards, applied creams, administered injections, squeezed spots, and wiped very occasional break-up tears.”. The story begins in 2008 as the narrator is reeling from the embarrassment of being fired and then moves back and forth in time and location from London to New York to West Africa. The chapters headings are numbered but not identified as to time or location and so it takes a minute to figure out the location and time frame. It is written from the first-person narrative making the identification of who is speaking easier to determine. Some of the characters, although central to the story, seemed to be not fully realized. Intelligently written and researched. 4 stars
⭐ If you haven’t read Swing Time, now is a great time to do so. The book moves easily from tough London neighborhoods with Tracey, her young best friend, to Manhattan mansions with an international superstar, Aimee, then to the Wolof villages of her origins in West Africa, and then back again, in an exotic rhythm to a music that the author hears in her soul that can’t be described but only danced. Her story is a life’s journey of joyful private experiences and hard-earned insights: “I saw all my years at once, but they were not piled up on each other, experience after experience, building into something of substance—the opposite. A truth was being revealed to me: that I had always tried to attach myself to the light of other people, that I had never had any light of my own.” You read the book to see all the implications of this truth. You read to see her overcome her limitations.Swing Time is many things. It’s a perfectly constructed novel written with a poet’s ear for language. It’s also partly a Marxist fable of the corruption of great wealth: “Maybe luxury is the easiest matrix to pass through. Maybe nothing is easier to get used to than money.” Partly a feminist meditation on gender inequality: “I often thought I saw her again, this girl who lives everywhere and at all times in history, who is sweeping the yard or pouring out tea or carrying somebody else’s baby on her hip and looking over at you with a secret she can’t tell.” Swing Time also is a coming-of-age story about a young woman and her best friend, and the different arcs each of their lives took.This book deserves to be read and re-read, each time discerning new dimensions to Zadie Smith’s intimate novel.
⭐ I have, over the past few years, been working my way through the published works of Zadie Smith. The fact that I have stayed at the task and gotten this far shows, I think, that I admire and enjoy her work. In some ways, I find Swing Time to be her most mature novel even as I feel she is reaching further into her own experience with each new novel. Personally, I believe On Beauty remains her best, most complete novel. Still, this one comes in a close second.Smith’s biggest skill is her ability to create engaging personalities and thrilling relationships. We follow our narrator from her youth through to her early thirties. For the reader, she is mostly defined by her relationships. Early on, this is primarily though her friend Tracey, under whose spell she falls when they meet as young girls at a dance class. Though Tracey will periodically return in the narrative (with consequences), by the time they are teenagers, their paths diverge.In addition to this overwhelming early friendship, our narrator has her problems (of course) with an overbearing, rather selfish mother who is, in many ways, the most engaging character in the book with her studying, resentments, protests, and relentless drive to a respectable position in life. After college, our narrator trades this for a popstar version of these same characteristics when she becomes a personal assistant to Aimee, a global superstar. Along the way, we meet a plethora of other interesting people, including fathers, additional personal assistants, and Hawa, Fern, and Lamin, who work with the narrator (via Aimee) to set up a school for African girls ala Oprah.As always, Ms. Smith is able to make her characters pop with great dialogue and plots that are simultaneously edgy and expected. Her main weakness as a writer has always seemed to me to be her inability to end a novel effectively. She tries to circumvent that here with a prologue that foreshadows the ending and dropping in some other hints of the end throughout the story, some of it quite brilliant. (I’m thinking of the VHS tape.) It would have worked if she would have stuck with the ending she so effectively predicts. Instead, she adds in touches that lessen the impact and adds an epilogue which I hated, so out-of-tone as it was with the rest of what we’d learned.Still, I absolutely loved the early parts of this book, when the focus was mainly on Tracey as the friend and the narrator’s home dynamic with her parents. I also loved the sections when the narrator was in Africa with the people working on the school. All in all, this is a wonderful piece of writing which I would definitely recommend.
⭐ The story gets off to a good start with a touching description of a developing friendship between two young girls. Their school, their dancing classes, their friends, their families and all the relative problems, pleasures, contrasts, shared intimacies, rivalries are well handled and hold the reader’s attention. But that is lost when the protagonist meets up with her employer, world famous singer and dancer Aimee. This character just does not ring true and, perhaps as a result, the story loses its interest and credibility and becomes shallow and unconvincing. One is tempted to skip pages in the hope of finding the vivacity and spontaneity that characterized the opening pages but is disappointed in the end.
⭐ Before anything, Ill just say that the reason I LIKED the book was that at the end of it I good idea of what it was trying to say about different people viewing the world differently and trying to help the world in different ways. how people treat and see poverty and developing countries, how people view other cultures and their own cultures. Though it was really subtle, it was the 1 constant message given throughout the book. I liked that lasting message, and it definitely gave me something to think about.THE REASON I GAVE IT ONLY 3 STARSit was a good message, but it was jjst a boring book. Im sorry, but I really struggled to finish it, I had to push myself through most of it. I think what made it boring is that its not particularily funny or particularily eventful or particularily exciting. its moderate in every way, theres nothing that caught my interest enough to make me not be able to stop reading. So, the overall message was great, but it could have been presented in a much more entertaining way. also, WHAT did she decide to do about tracey in the end? that open-ended “solution” was just frustrating, especially since there was nothing else super-satisfying about the book. it was just 1 more frustration. BUT i like books that give an overall message that really stands out, so in that sense this book is definitely a success. just a bit too uneventful for my taste. even the big event in the end didnt really feel exciting cuz of the way it was written. also sorry for the typos, its hard to fix with the textbox format @ amazon u should fix this i cant even read wat i read cuz i cant scroll up…
⭐ Zadie Smith’s Swing Time is as close to a perfect novel as I have heard.I chose my words carefully.Having read (and subsequently worshiped) her essay *Fail Better*, I am using her own term of perfection. The sort of perfection which makes you feel the book and know the author better than any non-fiction ever could. Swing Time presents Smith’s truth. It approaches the sort of narrative perfection that makes the book realer than reality. What I mean is, it expresses reality in ways that nonfiction can only present it.It’s just brilliant. At times, while reading her novel and finishing my own, I was inspiring. At other times, it was a downright daunting experience. Reading Smith as a writer, you must confront the fact (reading her essay on writing novels helps) that attempting perfection and failing is a worthwhile endeavor. At the very least, it ensures you don’t sleepwalk through life.Let me elaborate on why this novel is so good. I was repeatedly struck with the notion: Why doesn’t she end it here? There are so many threads, woven tightly, that I thought it could have ended in at least six different points and been a complete work and a joy to get through. Then, in the next chapter, Smith shows off, unveiling the loose ends she hid within each stitch, the ones that you didn’t know were there because they were buried in the manifold layers of her personality. Ones that, I like to imagine, she discovered as she wrote her identity through the story.Here is one of those moments when I thought the book may as well have ended. Our narrator has settled down with a bourgeois man. She attends a play that Americanizes the Africans. Leaves them completely threadbare as stock characters, by-products of the racial narrative. When the narrator mentions this at intermission, she is scoffed at. Then, when the play’s conclusion reveals the meta-knowledge that the characters were in fact caricatures, the crowd goes wild and deems it brilliant–having never been in on the joke until the reveal. It’s a moment like this when the racial arc feels complete. Beginning with the prologue involving the Fred Astaire black-face dance routine, the novel feels like it has come full circle. You think you are in the audience of a grand reveal. Then she goes on, enticing you once more to examine yourself as you read her because you must have missed something else that needs closure. She makes you feel like that audience did at that play. And it’s right to. Anyone who hasn’t had Smith’s exact experience should feel like an ogler, reaching for meaning, searching restlessly for fulfillment of themselves and the book. It’s those things we always feel, but never express, that makes Smith’s work near perfection the way it does.Smith brings the reader to our knees and forces our admission that identity can never be a tangible whole, can never be discovered or explained, as she freely admits in her essays on craft, perfectly.
⭐ I loved it. It’s not for everyone. I think it is very rub my wounds/self examination specific. It is non-linear in parts. It examines race in both subtle and seemingly non-racial ways. Its focus is constantly changing and yet weighed down by events of the past and echos of history. Its examination of the parent as an independent being weighed down by parenthood is incisive. The bewilderment of the primary protagonist can be both annoying and in sharp parallel to all of the above–there are no clear answers and we are just grasping or pontificating until the last. Minus one star for leaving the reader stuck in the mud in the middle–it doesn’t last long, but I can see why some people would become impatient.
⭐ Swing Time has flaws. I think it’s over long. But it is an interesting story of a person who is never herself or maybe she is herself only in juxtaposition to someone else. The narrator (note – no name) is a girl with a strong opinionated mother and quiet passive father who meets Tracey when she is a young girl. Now almost everything in her life is in relation to Tracey. Tracey drives her life. In spite of her singing talent, she pursues dancing with Tracey. Tracey is the planet – she is the satellite. Time moves back and forth in the book, but the other part of her life is working for a superstar in the Madonna mold, and now Aimee is the one that drives her life. At the end, the narrator’s life circles back. (Not giving anything away. You know this is where it will end.) But it makes you think. Why are some people the leaders, the instigators, while others follow along in their wake? Is there something wrong with that? Was the narrator set up for this following, managing, subsuming in opposition to her mother who is constantly exploring? Or has she just allowed herself to swept along in the wake of others because it’s easier than forging her own life in her own direction? At the same time, you also see how limited the lives are for her mother, for Tracey, and for Aimee. Maybe the narrator is the smart one – since she’s the one that is able to move on.
⭐ I am a big Zadie Smith fan and found her descriptions and observations about class, race, life in general, celebrity, and life in particular to be fascinating.The overall story meanders and many of the auxiliary characters (Granger, Lamin, mom……) are only sketched, though they are not stereotypes.Definitely recommended and I’ll probably read it again in a couple of years.Not quite ‘White Teeth’ or ‘On Beauty’ quality but then not much is.
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