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Reading the book

Yancy's picture

coauthored with Amy Ma

Although Zadie Smith’s language is vivid and accurate to express her meaning, when reading her book NW, we still feel confused because sometimes we cannot find the links between sentences, paragraphs or chapters. It is like a conciousness stream. The whole work is like a large mosaic, which describing some clashes in people’s lives in London by recording some parts of the daily matters. Zadie Smith’s writing style in this book makes it hard for us to understand, because when we are reading this book, the strange names appear without any omens and we need to guess or find clues to figure out the identities of new roles. It’s like being thrown into a place that we don’t know.Also, she records so many tiny details and we have to focus on the words to try to catch her main idea. One of our classmates said that she has to read fast so that she would not get stuck in a specific sentence or word that will take a longtime to firgure out what they mean.

The relationships in this book, no matter between women and men, or women and women, are deserved to study because some of them reflect inevitable clashes between different people.The number 37 is a mystery in NW.  This number appears in the first part of the book, the part which is about Leah’s life, for four times as the topic of a chapter. When this disorder topic appears for the first time, after  reading the chapter eleven, I even thought I thumb the wrong page, because the content in this chapter seems irrelevant to the chapter eleven which describe the re-meeting between Leah and Shar. The chapter 37, after eleven, mentioned another woman, who ‘once was a true love’ of Leah. (NW. Zadie Smith, 46) I do not know who she is or why she is mentioned in this chapter, actually the whole chapter is like a disrupter because there is no direct relationship between the beginning of the chapter37 and the end of chapter eleven. Does 37 mean friendship:What is interesting is, in the part of Keisha/Natalie in the book, the chapter 37 doesn’t exist. Also, in the chapter 24, the topic is ‘The number 37’. (NW, 216) So, Keisha was the true love of Leah, and the number 37 actually is special for both of them. Actually when I read the part of Leah, I did not notice that Leah and Natalie were such good friends when they were children. Zadie Smith starts the Leah’s part by writing the first meet between Leah and Shar. Because of this start, I thought Shar might play an important role in the book. And things happen in Leah’s story are like about the life ‘at present’. However, in Keisha’s part, Zadie Smith writes her life from the beginning, when she was a child. Keisha saved Leah from drowing in water. And I find in Keisha’s heart, Leah plays a really important role and they are best friends.

Keisha became a person that other people expected her to be rather than the true self, the crazy Keisha in front of Leah . However, Leah stays as the one she wants herself to be. Their external selves became different. As Keisha hide herself more, they became more distant. “Natalie noticed with anxiety that Leah’s stories had no special emphasis or intention.”(NW. Zadie Smith 353) It is anxiety that indicates Natalie cares about the relationship between Leah and herself, but she finds herself not understanding Leah’s stories. They are no longer the girls that can talk in bed about 37. They  are different now.

How does their relationship change during time? Is it because of age? Is it because of different experience? Or is it just because Keisha is not using her internal self to face Leah. As she compromised with life and other people’s expectations, she became a successful woman, but is it a good thing or a bad thing? We don’t know. The ending seems to be neither happy or sad.  It is like after years in life, they became numb, but also struggling to get out of numbness.The change of relationship between Leah and Keisha shows the change in themselves.  It is like Keisha is losing her bond with Leah, as she is losing herself.



Smith, Zadie. NW. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.