Feel Free by Zadie Smith

Feel Free by Zadie Smith

Author:Zadie Smith
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Penguin Canada
Published: 2018-02-06T05:00:00+00:00


Many kinds of contraband got passed around our school: cigarettes, drugs, porn mags, video nasties, every now and then some poor fool’s diary—but books were not considered hot property. The Buddha of Suburbia changed all that. It was moving surreptitiously around our history class, it had one page folded, so that anyone who cared to could read the following line:

“Now, Karim, I want you to put some ice up my cunt. Would you mind going to the fridge?”

To see this expletive inside a book—instead of on a wall—was, in and of itself, very good value. But there was also something truly striking in seeing a name like Karim, familiar to us—though rarely seen in typeface—sitting there calmly only nine words away from the word “cunt.” Kureishi was another familiar name, we had a Kureishi in our class (spelled with a Q), and felt we recognized the world of this novel, at least as it was depicted on the front of that first edition: the cream living room with the bad curtains, the lady in the sari, some mysterious old white people of probable renown, a lone Tory boy, a few pretty, posh English roses and a psychedelic-looking Indian with a red headband. Word got round that there was a useful, masturbatory section depicting an orgy, somewhere around page 205 (you can go look it up now if you like; I’ll wait), and I confess I hurried down to our local W. H. Smith primarily for that reason. I meant to skim-read the thing, the way you skim-read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, leaping over paragraphs in search of genitals. But it was not possible to skip over those opening lines:

My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories. But I don’t care—Englishman I am (though not proud of it), from the South London suburbs and going somewhere.

This was thrilling. I had no idea you could start a book like that. In school we were reading—per the syllabus—Austen, Milton, Shakespeare, Keats, Iris Murdoch. Consequently I thought an English sentence was a kind of cat-o’-nine-tails, to be used, primarily, as a tool for whipping children into submission. I didn’t know you could speak to a reader like this, as if they were your equal—as if they were a friend. I’d had a hint of it with Holden Caulfield, but at some fundamental level Holden always remained exotic: an American prep-school kid suffering from ennui. There were Dickens’s various waifs and strays, often closer in postcode, but distant in time. Karim was different, I knew him; I recognized the way class worked in his family, the complex mix of working- and lower-middle-class realities, and all the strange gradations that can exist between these two states. And of course he was one of the “new breed,” like me, like so many kids


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