On Beauty was a heart wrenching book, at least it was for me. Howard a 56 year old white, British transplant, and nontenured professor has lost the ability to love, in my opinion to even be real. As a character in the book says ( and I'm not telling who because it will give things away) , he can't even say, "A tomato is a tomato." His family suffers so much from this especially his African American wife Kiki and his children. The book was not just about Howard's lack of connection to others. It was about the world, about race, politics, academic life, sexism, coming of age, religion, love, marriage, family. It covered it all. At first I felt like Zadie Smith took on more than really could be put in a novel. After reading a few other reviews I realized that this was a meatier book than I usually read or listen too. It was meant to share how the personal was political, the political is personal. That our loves touch on all of these things.
The other issue that struck me, while listening to the book, was the concept of reality. I couldn't really put my finger on it until I read other reviews of the book. What is REAL? What is the truth? What is living life and what is "faking it." What is really seeing the world around you. I felt frustrated with both sides of the issue. Judgment of the academic world, judgment of the the street world. When the issues got to race and politics I wish something new could have been suggested. To me it's about empowerment. It seemed to me the "groups" represented in the book were each limited by their own group. Why not break out of that all together. I'm not talking specifically about race but about economics as well. Yet I feel uncomfortable even saying this as I am Caucasian and I feel confident, most of the time, that the world supports me.
All in all a good book despite the fact I wanted to wring Howard's neck a few times. In the end it seemed that the books was about love, that love endures. There seems to be hope for Howard and Kiki to heal the rifts despite the really stupid things he did with that the book offered me hope.