Swing Time

Author Zadie Smith
Vote 8/10
Reviewed on 2020-04-04
Read in English

England, our time. The story starts with the narrator talking about finding shelter for something humiliating she’s been a victim of, and before finding out what it was, we are brought back to the first encounter with her childhood friend, Tracey, from where the story begins. Two girls become close friends but one is ambitious and scornful, the other shy and unsure about her place in this world. The first, Tracey, is convinced she will become a famous dancer, and her mother is a single parent struggling with her finances and her diet; the second has no idea but loves music and dance and singing, and her mother is a strong and independent woman fighting fiercely for her education. The narration follows the two girls as they grow up, living parallel lives that touch briefly in a few moments. The narrator goes to work for a music magazine, and then becomes the personal assistant to a famous singer, Aimee. This latter decides to build a school in Africa (the name of the country is never said explicitly, unless I’ve missed it, but seems to be Gambia). It becomes the occasion for the narrator to experience a cultural landmark and to question some more her identity, her mother’s, her upbringing.

The protagonist is struggling to find herself, pressed between strong and assertive personalities.

The book is pleasant to read. Touches on some interesting themes like the identity of people born out of parents of different ethnic groups, but doesn’t become too political to the point of becoming boring. The plot is convincing but I think the real strength of this book comes from the reflections of the narrator on her condition, and the plot is more an excuse than something crucial.