Zadie Smith: Swing Time

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, about 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.

Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.

I feel a bit like I’ve missed some critical piece of this book somewhere. I got to the end and even though I felt as if this was agonizing at times…I’m thinking, “That’s it? What was the point? Did I miss it?”

Swing Time is written as a series of flash forwards and flash backs, so the timeline jumps all over the place–from London to West Africa–telling the story of two biracial girls from childhood to their tumultuous adulthood. Yes, you did read that right, TWO BIRACIAL MAIN CHARACTERS, each with their own unique perspective and personality. There’s also a gay man and bisexual woman. It had so much diversity and promise. And Zadie Smith does do a marvelous job of showing the huge variety of privilege that there is in the world:  white privilege and the privilege of the wealthy and first world privilege. Our main character is so incredibly naive, even with her activist mother.

The backbones of the book were there. I found myself nodding along with a lot of it, marking down quotes, googling things that I needed to reference or read later. But unfortunately, the actual plotline didn’t hold up to Smith’s incredible prose, and that is the disappointment. I still don’t understand the connection between Tracey’s story and Aimee’s, or what actually happened with Aimee at the end. It’s almost as if this book is SO DEEP, that the plotline just dissolved into the message–such a weird feeling.

If you were looking forward to reading Swing Time, I’d say still read it. The message alone is worth it. And maybe you’ll pull more out of the plot than I did–if you understand the ending, please tell me, because I’m utterly confused. Any Zadie Smith fans out there that can help me out?


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WWW Wednesday 12/30/2015



Last one of the year! I’m wrapping up #ReadWomen, and starting the first Trees of Reverie challenge of 2016!

What are you currently reading?

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick

The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

For Study:  The Ramayana by Ramesh Menon

Legends/Poems:  The World of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin


What did you just finish reading? 

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

‘Twas the Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Void of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

On Beauty

Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar who doesn’t like Rembrandt, is an Englishman abroad and a long-suffering professor at Wellington, a liberal New England arts college. He has been married for thirty years to Kiki, an American woman who no longer resembles the sexy activist she once was. Their three children passionately pursue their own paths: Levi quests after authentic blackness, Zora believes that intellectuals can redeem everybody, and Jerome struggles to be a believer in a family of strict atheists. Faced with the oppressive enthusiasms of his children, Howard feels that the first two acts of his life are over and he has no clear plans for the finale. Or the encore.

Then Jerome, Howard’s older son, falls for Victoria, the stunning daughter of the right-wing icon Monty Kipps, and the two families find themselves thrown together in a beautiful corner of America, enacting a cultural and personal war against the background of real wars that they barely register. An infidelity, a death, and a legacy set in motion a chain of events that sees all parties forced to examine the unarticulated assumptions which underpin their lives. How do you choose the work on which to spend your life? Why do you love the people you love? Do you really believe what you claim to? And what is the beautiful thing, and how far will you go to get it?

To be honest, I thought I was going to hate this. I tried to read White Teeth a few years back and couldn’t get past the first few chapters. I was expecting the same with On Beauty. I don’t know if it’s just such a vastly different book, or maybe I’ve learned to check my white privilege better and thus read black literature with more empathy. I still can’t fully relate to the characters in this book–I don’t expect to or need to–but reading Zadie Smith helps to understand the imbalance between not only white privilege and black culture, but also the difference between conforming to what American culture views as “White Values” and what Levi would refer to as “Street.”

On Beauty really is just a beautiful book. It is seriously complicated though. There are many relationships that criss-cross in this small college town, and everything is as awkward as possible. My anxiety was thump-thumping throughout the whole thing! It’s going on my mental Valuable Books list, though, as I feel as if a lightbulb has clicked on in so many aspects of my cultural education. Definitely 5 Dragons for Zadie Smith. I must go back and try White Teeth again, too.


Fulfills Boxall #103