Book for February 2006
It's New Year's Day 1975 at the beginning of the novel, and we are introduced to Archie Jones, a 47-year-old man whose disturbed Italian wife has just walked out on him. Archie is attempting to commit suicide by gassing himself in his car, when a chance interruption causes him to change his mind. Filled with a fresh enthusiasm for life, Archie flips a coin and finds his way into the aftermath of a New Year's Eve party. There he meets the much-younger Clara, a Jamaican woman whose mother is a devout Jehovah's Witness. They are soon married and have a daughter, Irie, who grows up to be intelligent but with low self-confidence.
Samad, who has emigrated to Britain after World War II, has married Alsana. Alsana is also much younger than he is, and their union is the product of a traditional arranged marriage. They have twin boys, Magid and Millat, who are the same age as Irie. The marriage is quite rocky, as their devotion to Islam in an English life is troublesome. Samad is continually tormented by what he sees as the effects of this cultural conflict upon his own moral character and sends 10-year-old Magid to Bangladesh in the hope that he will grow up properly under the teachings of Islam. From then on, the lives of the two boys follow very different paths. Ironically, Magid becomes an atheist and devotes his life to science (a grave disappointment to Samad). Whereas Millat, despite his earlier womanizing and drinking, eventually becomes an angry fundamentalist and part of a Muslim brotherhood known as the Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (or KEVIN).
The lives of the Jones and Iqbal families intertwine with that of the Chalfens, a Jewish-Catholic family of Oxford educated intellectuals. The father, Marcus Chalfen, is a brilliant but socially inept geneticist working on a controversial 'FutureMouse' project. The mother, Joyce Chalfen, is a part-time housewife with an often entirely misguided desire to mother and 'heal' Millat. Although they wish to be thought of as intellectual liberals, the Chalfens often demonstrate complete cultural ignorance and a blindness to the changes happening in their own family.
Later on in the story, Clara's mother, a strict Jehovah's Witness, becomes involved along with Clara's ex-boyfriend when Irie runs away from home.
Returned from Bangladesh, Magid works as Marcus' research assistant, while Millat is befriended by the Chalfens. To some extent the family provides a safe haven as they (believe themselves to) accept and understand the turbulent lives of Magid and Millat. However, this sympathy comes at the expense of their own son, Josh, whose difficulties are ignored by his parents as he, too, begins to rebel against his background.
The strands of the narrative grow closer as Millat and KEVIN, Josh and a radical animal rights group (FATE), and Clara's mother (Hortense) and her religious connections all begin to oppose FutureMouse as an evil interference with their own beliefs and plan to stop it. Irie, who has been working for Marcus, briefly succeeds in her long-hidden attraction to Millat but is rejected under his KEVIN-inspired beliefs. Irie believes that Millat cannot love her, for he has always been 'the second son' both symbolically and literally; Millat was born two minutes after Magid. After losing her virginity to Millat, she makes Magid the 'second son' for a change by sleeping with him right after. This causes her to become pregnant, and she is left unsure of the father of her child, as the brothers are identical twins.
Extraordinary consequences result as the seemingly divergent stories of the main characters coalesce in a stunning finale—the unveiling of FutureMouse, the revelatory actions of the warring groups, and of a long-kept secret from Samad and Archie's past.
Zadie Smith (born on 25 October 1975) is a British novelist, essayist and short story writer. As of 2016, she has published five novels, all of which have received substantial critical praise. In 2003, she was included on Granta's list of 20 best young authors. Smith has won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2006 and her novel White Teeth was included in Time magazines TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 list. She joined New York University's Creative Writing Program as a tenured professor in 2010.