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aruna
09-06-2012, 07:38 PM
An interview (http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9749000/9749337.stm)about her new novel, in which she does not mention the race of ther characters except for two white people.

aruna
09-06-2012, 09:08 PM
About the book. (http://www.npr.org/2012/09/06/160254532/same-streets-different-lives-in-nw-london)


Smith never mentions that Nathan is black. In fact, she never describes the race of any of her characters — unless the person is white. Smith says she doesn't really expect all readers to notice that, but she liked turning the idea of race on its head.
http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2012/08/24/nw_-c-dominique-nabokob_author-photo1_sq-5c04f9afc1c2d304828fabde6a30a5785bbe69a2-s1.jpg (http://www.npr.org/2012/08/29/159991094/exclusive-first-read-zadie-smiths-nw)

"I grew up reading a generation of American and English people like [Saul] Bellow, [John] Updike or [Martin] Amis. Everybody's neutral unless they're black — then you hear about it: the black man, the black woman, the black person. Of course, if you happen to be black the world doesn't look that way to you. I just wanted to try and create perhaps a sense of alienation and otherness in this person, the white reader, to remind them that they are not neutral to other people."


An interesting concept. What do you think?

tamara
09-06-2012, 09:20 PM
I think it's a great approach. It's so true that white society thinks of itself as "normal." It's not a specific fault of whiteness; it's just the majority view.

Christians in American think of themselves as the base-line, often forgetting that there are plenty of others who don't share their beliefs. Straights people too often think that someone's sexual orientation is a perfectly appropriate topic of conversation, as long as the person isn't hetero. It's the same thing.

I have a characters in my book who are white, black, and biracial, and race is one of my big themes. So far, I've tried to convey each person's characteristics without resorting to the big labels, except in dialogue where the label is the point.

aruna
09-06-2012, 09:37 PM
I too like the idea, and in fact my WIP is a bit like that. It's a majority black and brown society, and you just have to assume everyone is a POC-- except the few that aren't.

tamara
09-06-2012, 09:56 PM
I took a glance at your profile and clicked through to read a description of Of Marriageable Age, and I think I'm going to have some questions for you later. My WIP has two plot lines in two time periods and I know I'm going to struggle with fitting them together. But first, off to see if I can download your book. :)

DarthPanda
09-06-2012, 10:15 PM
I remember when Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys came out... It used the same tactic. A lot of people expressed surprise in reviews/discussions of the book that all the MCs were black. Very interesting, though (sadly) not really surprising. White is typically considered the "default" in Western literature unless the book is set in an explicitly non-Western locale and/or the characters have "ethnic" names.

patskywriter
09-07-2012, 12:32 AM
I really like that idea. My world was primarily black when I was a kid and I suppose black would have been considered the default. Often, whenever we made distinctions they were more along the line of "creole," "Cuban," or "Haitian." (I grew up in a Catholic area.)

thebloodfiend
09-07-2012, 03:09 AM
I remember when Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys came out... It used the same tactic. A lot of people expressed surprise in reviews/discussions of the book that all the MCs were black. Very interesting, though (sadly) not really surprising. White is typically considered the "default" in Western literature unless the book is set in an explicitly non-Western locale and/or the characters have "ethnic" names.

You think the title would be a dead fucking giveaway. Sheesh. I haven't even read the book yet and I assumed the MCs were black.

Just goes to remind me that unless you spell it out in big bold letters, really big bold underlined letters (lest they pull a Hunger Games and complain because they can't enjoy the movie cause they didn't know Rue was black) most people will just default to white.

Kitty Pryde
09-07-2012, 04:07 AM
I've read a few books like that, Black Boy, White School, by an AA author, comes to mind. This book was about a kid from the hood. At his new school he identifies his fellow students as kids, and white kids. And Zoo City, by a white South African author, which I was actually CERTAIN was black because of that, and other ways she characterized the heroine.

If it makes sense for the POV it should absolutely be done. If readers can't figure out what's going on, they can go cry in their soup?

aruna
09-07-2012, 08:41 AM
I think the reason why this might seem big to mainstream readers is because Smith is the darling of the literary world, sort of the poster-child for multicultural fiction, and her readership is predominantely the white chattering classes. They normally need it spelled out for them: see these are my black/Indian/Muslim/Bangladeshi characters. To have the British characters by default black in the literary genre is pretty revolutionary. I've only read books like that if they are actuallly set in Africa, India, etc.

tamara
09-07-2012, 08:28 PM
I think the reason why this might seem big to mainstream readers is because Smith is the darling of the literary world, sort of the poster-child for multicultural fiction, and her readership is predominantely the white chattering classes. They normally need it spelled out for them: see these are my black/Indian/Muslim/Bangladeshi characters. To have the British characters by default black in the literary genre is pretty revolutionary. I've only read books like that if they are actuallly set in Africa, India, etc.

I agree. This is really helping me think through my approach--thank you!

In my WIP, there are 2 POV characters, separated by time, one of whom is a biracial servant in a white household in the 1930s U.S. The narration will do what we're talking about here, calling out whiteness. Especially in the segregated South, where the woman's world is mostly made up of people of color this makes a lot of sense to me. To cue the reader, and make it read as real, though, I need to research the language that people of color used back then to describe skin tone.

The other POV is a white woman in the same town, present day. I don't want to "normalize" whiteness, so I don't think I'll go as far as calling out only blackness. That storyline's narration will describe physical characteristics, using labels in dialogue as needed for plot and theme.

patskywriter
09-07-2012, 09:09 PM
… In my WIP, there are 2 POV characters, separated by time, one of whom is a biracial servant in a white household in the 1930s U.S. The narration will do what we're talking about here, calling out whiteness. Especially in the segregated South, where the woman's world is mostly made up of people of color this makes a lot of sense to me. To cue the reader, and make it read as real, though, I need to research the language that people of color used back then to describe skin tone. …

Your WIP sounds interesting! I hope you're able to uncover some of the funny sayings shared by black people of the day. When I was in college in rural Alabama back in the 1970s, I kept hearing the phrase "po' some tea." (I'm black and I attended a black college.) When I asked an older black person what that phrase meant, she explained that it meant to gossip. She said that back in the day the servants observed their white employers spreading gossip while sipping sweet tea, so when they in turn wanted to sit down and talk about other people, they'd say, "Oooh, we fidna po' some tea!"

tamara
09-07-2012, 09:20 PM
Thanks! I have an MA in African American history, but in an earlier period (pre-Civil War), so I've got my work cut out for me.

"Po' some tea!" I love that! And origin story is really telling. I may start saying that myself. May sound funny coming from a white girl from New England, but I think I can pull it off. :D

(Another NC writer, I see. I'm north of Greensboro. Nice to meet a neighbor!)

Filigree
09-17-2012, 10:00 AM
Martha Wells published a great fantasy novel called WHEEL OF THE INFINITE in 2000, with most of the cast being POC. One mercenary is paler-skinned, and the female protagonist notices how odd he looks compared to the norm. It was refreshing to read, and a damned good standalone fantasy as well.