Set in the North of London in the beginning, Zadie Smith's fifth novel, “Swing Time”, tells us the story of two childhood friends whose paths diverge as they grow up, and the challenges of growing up fuel the diversion.
The unnamed narrator, from an English father and Jamaican mother, is drawn towards Tracey, who has an English mother and has no father since they are the only black students in their dance class. They become best friends through time as they find solace in their mutual skin tones and they are neighbours from the estate flats as well. While Tracey is a confident and talented dancer to whom dance moves are like conscience, the narrator faces challenges since she has flat feet. The narrator is highly expected by her mother to outdo Tracey in dancing but she constantly fails, which results in creating a void between a mother-daughter relationship.
Tracey rises to the momentary fame of a talented dancer and ultimately ends up in the poverty stricken life where she began with. The frustration growing from this event ultimately leads to a mental disorder in Tracey.
Later on in life, the narrator becomes the personal assistant of popstar Aimee, after graduating. As Aimee sets up a charity programme in West Africa, the narrator along with Aimee's whole crew fly to London, New York, and West Africa frequently. Through time, the West African village becomes a familiar ground for the narrator as she makes friends and grows a temporary romantic interest. The novel further unfurls the poor condition of Tracey - she has kids from different men, and her mental disorder takes a serious toll on her. The narrator's mother succeeds in becoming a member of the Parliament in London, and she is diagnosed with cancer in the greater half of the book. She restores her normal bond with her mother and tries to stem some unfading memories since her chances of survival are less.
I, personally, felt Zadie's novelist gaze was able to cut the gloom and shed light on gender, racial, and cultural issues. Her narratives are strong and thought provoking. The way she portrayed the stigma surrounding black people in a white-majority country, friendship and trust issues, mental health problems, corruption in work places honestly intrigued me to the core. I wasn't expecting this much before delving into the novel. Considering this is her inaugural first person driven novel, she did a pretty amazing job constantly shifting from the past to the future and vice versa.
Overall, I think her writings are urgent for this generation to read, and Swing Time definitely lived up to its name on the shortlist for 2017 Man Booker Prize. Though it is anything but a light read, you need this book on your to-be-read list.
Shah Tazrian Ashrafi is angry with his parents because they won't buy him a golden retriever. Help him convince his parents at facebook.com/shahtazrianashrafi