Swing Time

Swing Time

Book - 2016
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"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

"A sweeping meditation on art, race, and identity that may be [Smith's] most ambitious work yet." -- Esquire

A New York Times bestseller * Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction * Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

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.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2016.
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9781594203985
Branch Call Number: SMITH Z
Characteristics: 453 pages ; 23 cm.


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Let’s be honest, 2016 has been kind of a hot mess. Between so many celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Prince, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Elie Wiesel holy cow, SO MANY) and some, uh, general upheaval, most people are ready to write this one off as a loss. But! As much as we’d like to say goodbye and good riddance to the year as a whole, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the ... (more)

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A vivid, witty tour de force coming of age story about connections in friendship, family, society's divides and so much more!
Zadie Smith's latest novel is a nominee for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

LPL_ShirleyB Nov 11, 2016

Zadie Smith is coming to Lawrence on December 1st; her new book is a Carnegie Medal nominee. This book cleverly wraps insight about race and class into a complex coming-of-age story. The 1936 musical, "Swing Time", with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is relevant to the story. In additio... Read More »

Zadie Smith's newest novel will be released soon! This thoughtfully fun, complex coming-of-age story is brilliantly wrapped in wry wit. While we may not learn the narrator's name, she offers poignant, insightful reflections of friendship, music, and cultural icons that speak about social divides ... Read More »

From the critics

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FVRL_Maple_Ridge Feb 05, 2021

This book from the FVRL collection was chosen to compliment the 2019/2020 season at the ACT arts centre. This book was on a list that featured literature about dance and literature to compliment dance performances taking place at The ACT.

Jun 03, 2020

This book my mom and I read together, and let me tell you, we have very different views on it. Personally, I felt compelled to read it, therefore already making me enjoy it less. Then after that, it just never pulled me into its rhythm. I absolutely loved the message it was sending, and I think for that aloe, you should read it. However, out of totally enjoyment reading, it does not rate highly on my list. I do think that it is an amazing book that deals with many cultural ideas and problems that need to be thought about, I just did not like it. It is as simple as that. I do think it is an important book to read, and I know that there are many people who adored this book (my mom), so I wouldn’t say not to read it. 2.5/5 stars
@LucindatheGreen of the Hamilton Public Library's Teen Review Board

WVMLlibrarianCathy Sep 13, 2018

The complicated relationship between the narrator and her friend / frenemy Tracey is central to this book, and makes it one of Zadie Smith's best works yet. Fans of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend will enjoy this novel, which also explores the main character's life from a perspective seldom found. I loved reading about a life defined by the platonic relationship between two girls (and later women), particularly in a contemporary context.

Jul 29, 2018

I enjoyed reading this book about mixed race and socio economics, written on a personal level. The narrator was never particularly insightful, but let interesting things happen to her. The most compelling plot point was the time in Africa. I had just re-read Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver, which touch on some of the same points of 'helping' the needy Africans, without seeing the simplicity and dignity with which the natives live. Zadie Smith tells a good story, although I can't be sure of her point. It might be that life gets in the way while you pursue your dreams, and if you don't have dreams then you don't have even that anchor in the storm.

May 11, 2018

Excellent book. Well worth reading. Great writing.

DBRL_IdaF May 03, 2018

This is a novel about identity. What gives us our identity - class? race? home country? relationships? How do we define ourselves? It's about people searching for their places in the world. It's also a book about money and power and how they influence and shape lives.

An unnamed narrator examines her complicated childhood friendship with Tracey, a girl who shared her love of dance. Tracey was, by far, the more talented and dedicated of the two. As the girls grew up, their lives diverged. The narrator spends years working as an assistant to a rock megastar, globetrotting around the world, only occasionally making it back home. But still, decisions and events in her life are examined under the light of what Tracey would have made of it.

Smith's writing is beautiful and she captures many human dynamics wonderfully. "...devoting all time and energy to somebody else's existence, to somebody else's desires and needs and requirements. It's a shadow life and after a while it gets to you. Nannies, assistants, agents, secretaries, mothers -- women are used to it."

WPLBookClub Feb 01, 2018

The Armchair Books and Whistler Public Library Book Club read Zadie Smith's Swing Time in January 2018. What a divisive pick! Of the 16 people in attendance (including the facilitator), only 7 or 8 of us could finish (and really enjoyed) this novel - the others either abandoned the book after a few chapters, or struggled through as much as they could as our January meeting loomed. The group's consensus was that, while Swing Time is well written, it needed a thorough edit - we agreed that there was probably a tight, 200 page novel trapped within this 450 page story. That being said, we had a GREAT discussion, as we always do when the group is polarized.

We particularly enjoyed discussing:

- the nameless narrator - this really hit home how passive and aimless the main character was. For the most part, our group thought that Tracey was far more interesting than the narrator!
- the murky genre that is "literary fiction" - what makes these books such critical darlings, when the general reading public finds them so challenging? It often seems that novels that win literary awards are difficult to read/somewhat alienating to most readers.
- mother/daughter relationships and female friendships. Our nameless narrator was rendered more interesting simply through her proximity to her mother, to Tracey, and to Aimee.

Jul 02, 2017

kind of a soap opera. But I can see why some have enjoyed this work. Touches upon some interesting areas. It would be interesting to find out the back story for some of the plot points (adopting an African baby, starting a school).

Jun 13, 2017

I was shadowing the narrator (protagonist), in her projection, to watch over various characters performing in a life-long musical, a distance kept between their stage and my seat.
Mesmerizing, juxtaposed with unexpected temporal and spatial effects, from time to time, I only managed to steady my foothold while my thoughts scattered about, hardly swing in tempo.

After Epilogue, I revisited Prologue, I found the rhythm. An individual scene, which had appeared to be less probable or even absurd on the spot at the time, has become an integral part of a coherent whole. There are so much for me to reflect upon, a unique reading experience is what I treasure first.

May 17, 2017

Some of the deeper aspects of the book explores corrupting influences – both of fame and by abusing money in efforts to solve social problems. Perhaps the corrupting influence of doing the wrong work? My book group was split on it three of us liked it very much, three found it too uneven and a couple didn’t make it.

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