Fictional World Making in Zadie Smith and Hari Kunzru

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Editor: Lawrence J. Trudeau
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 12,236 words

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[(essay date 2009) In the following essay, Aldama compares the use of narrative elements to create postcolonial worlds in the work of Kunzru and Smith.]

Narrative Double Helix

In U.S. borderland and postcolonial theories of literature, much critical debate and discussion swarm around the issue of representation. Some consider the novel, as opposed to the prose poem, a more appropriate form for narrativizing postcoloniality or ethnicity, that one is more able to “strike back” against a Western canon than another.1 Others consider the postcolonial identity and experience best represented in the storytelling mode of realism as opposed to magical realism, fabulism, naturalism, or metafictionalism, and vice versa. Some consider this experience best plotted as tragic and not comic, or vice versa. And yet others contend that postcolonial and ethnic characterization be only positive and affirming or that certain characters are more suitable as typical of a postcolonial narrative. Others debate the identity politics of language: writing in a precolonial tongue is more “authentic” than writing in a colonizing tongue like English. Ultimately one might ask whether there is a postcolonial “narrative essence.” Can we unravel a unique postcolonial-borderland narrative code? To this end I ask, Where—if anywhere—might a borderland-postcolonial narrative essence reside? Is it a category imposed from scholarly Olympic heights? Is it to be found in the form? The content? Both?

To explore these initial questions, in this chapter I will focus on Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. In a first step toward unraveling their narratives’ double helix, I will examine how like and unlike narrative ingredients (universal and particularized) work to create the two novels’ respective postcolonial storyworlds in ways that engage those who are reading cognitively and emotively.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100123817