Zadie Smith on her mother, father and White Teeth

Photo: Zadie Smith and her mother

Best-selling British author Zadie Smith wasn't in the news because she wrote a new book.  She claimed her childhood home was brimful of books – but most had been borrowed from a local library by her mother and not returned.

Zadie Smith's mother

Her mother Yvonne Bailey-Smith, 56, agreed that her home had been full of books but insisted she bought most of them herself, spending up to £80 a time at local bookshops.

"I didn't steal books from library, says the mother of Zadie Smith," wrote the Daily mail.

The story behind it was Zadie Smith's campaign to save a north-west London library opened by Mark Twain in 1900. Unfortunatly she lost the battle, the council voted in favour of closing half the libraries in the borough because of Goverment spending cuts.

I think it's the only photo on the net of Zadie Smith's Jamaican mother, and it's a shame it's linked to such a headline. Read the story at

Photo: Zadie Smith and her father

Zadie Smith's father

She lost her father 5 years ago. On the photo Zadie Smith with her father Harvey. About the photo she wrote in NYT, " And this is me and my dad one Christmas past. I'm 5 and he's too old to have a 5-year-old." Her father was 55 and divorced from her mother when she was 15.

But I don't believe she meant in a negative way. Because last year she wrote a very moving story about her father in The Sunday Times. To quote the headline, "Zadie Smith, her father and British comedy. A story about a mutual passion for the likes of Monty Python and the punchline she can’t escape — his death."

She wrote: "My father had few enthusiasms, but he loved comedy. ..

When Harvey was very ill, in the autumn of 2006, I went to visit him at a nursing home in the seaside town of Felixstowe, armed with the DVD boxed set of Fawlty Towers. By this point, he was long divorced from my mother, his second divorce, and was living alone on the grey East Anglian coast, far from his children.

A dialysis patient for a decade (he lost his first kidney to stones, the second to cancer), his body now began to give up. I had meant to leave the DVDs with him, something for the empty hours alone, but when I got there, with nothing to talk about, we ended up watching them together for the umpteenth time, he on the single chair, me on the floor, cramped in that grim little nursing-home bedroom ..."
Harvey (World War II) and Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith's father was a World War II war veteran. In
the Guardian Ben Smith, Zadie's Brother, wrote: "He was born in Bromley, Kent, the son of an omnibus driver who abandoned the family. During the second world war, he joined the 6th Assault Regiment RE, part of the 79th Armoured Division and on June 5 1944 went to Normandy. 

He married, and by the late 1950s had two children. He took a job in a photographic agency in Glasshouse Street, Soho, in the early 60s. His marriage broke down, relationships with his children became strained and by the 1970s Harvey was single again, snapping away in London. Then he met my mother, Yvonne, a Jamaican. And so Harvey started all over again. He became intensely proud of having mixed-race children at a time when it was certainly not fashionable."

White Teeth

Needles to say Zadie Smith became world famous when she published her novel White Teeth in 2000. The Amazon review states the book is about race, sex, class, history, and the minefield of gender politics.

But in an interview, Smith says, "I wasn't trying to write about race. . . . Race is obviously a part of the book, but I didn't sit down to write a book about race. So is a book that doesn't have exclusively white people in the main theme must be one about race? I don't understand that."

But her book will always be analysed from racial point of view. One of the most striking examples is the book "Zadie Smith's White Teeth - Irie as an example for 2nd generation immigrants’ desperate search for their place in a multicultural society".

In the book the author analyses the biracial identity of Irie, the daughter of Clara (see video). She writes about about Irie's feeling of unrootedness as a consequence of lacking role models and her unawareness of her own family’s history. Read it here.

In 2002 the novel was dramatised by Channel 4.


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