Swing Time by Zadie Smith: A Review

A young woman takes a look back on her childhood and compares her experience with that of her friends to understand why the two have grown up to be such different women.  Both young women are the product of one British parent and one Jamaican parent but Tracey grows up with her father in and out of her life and exhibiting criminal behavior which causes her to act out frequently.  The other girl grows up with a caring father and a mother who loves her deeply but is determined to change the world, heavily criticizing the treatment of people of color in England.  Both young girls are heavily involved in their dance classes but Tracey seems to have much more promise than her friend.  The young woman goes to college and finds a career as an assistant to a star, Aimee, while Tracey dances in productions but has wild delusions of the Illuminati in her personal life.  The young woman envies Tracey's easy command of dance but is her own mother's vehement belief that a traditional education really a hindrance or is it a help?

Smith is a magician with words.  I felt myself highlighting her words of wisdom many times in order to read them later.  I felt that Swing Time is a very important book.  The book addresses many issues that are important to today's society, such as how single parenthood effects children and how people from a multicultural background interpret and react to the world.  There are also important lessons in appropriation and cultural misunderstanding as Aimee insists on tackling the problem of poverty in Africa while ignoring the fact that she may be hurting more than helping the situation.  In the end I saw bits of Aimee in the young woman, though, as they both felt that they knew better than the people actually effected by the circumstances they are in.  The book did move a bit slowly for my taste but I still enjoyed it.  The characters are what really stood out for me.  I felt for Tracey and empathized with the young woman.  I felt frustrated at the young woman's mother for her selfishness while she attempted to save the world at the expense of her daughter but understood the mother's need to do so because of where she was born.  This book is a great work of literary fiction and would be a great book for those readers who enjoy books with a multicultural heritage.  

Watch a video of Zadie Smith discuss Swing Time at the 92nd St Y:



Reviews of books like this one:
Marlena by Julie Buntin
City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
The Mothers by Brit Bennett 


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