Swing Time by Zadie Smith

72%

50 Critic Reviews

In “Swing Time,” her first novel in the first person, the transaction becomes more focused and personal, and its cost to the individual powerfully and poignantly clear.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

A New York Times bestseller
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

An ambitious, exuberant new novel moving from North West London to West Africa, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and On Beauty

Two brown girls dream of being dancers—but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It's a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

Tracey makes it to the chorus line but struggles with adult life, while her friend leaves the old neighborhood behind, traveling the world as an assistant to a famous singer, Aimee, observing close up how the one percent live.

But when Aimee develops grand philanthropic ambitions, the story moves from London to West Africa, where diaspora tourists travel back in time to find their roots, young men risk their lives to escape into a different future, the women dance just like Tracey—the same twists, the same shakes—and the origins of a profound inequality are not a matter of distant history, but a present dance to the music of time.
 

About Zadie Smith

See more books from this Author
ZADIE SMITH was born in Northwest London in 1975. She is the author of White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, and the essay collection Changing My Mind.
 
Published November 15, 2016 by Penguin Press. 461 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Dec 04 2016
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for Swing Time
All: 50 | Positive: 39 | Negative: 11

Kirkus

Excellent
on Aug 08 2016

A keen, controlled novel about dance and blackness steps onto a stage of cultural land mines...Moving, funny, and grave, this novel parses race and global politics with Fred Astaire’s or Michael Jackson's grace.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Sep 25 2016

Though some of the later chapters seem unnecessarily protracted, the story is rich and absorbing, especially when it highlights Smith's ever-brilliant perspective on pop culture.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Holly bass on Nov 10 2016

The book relies not on plot or character development but on a series of skillfully rendered passages to propel the story as it swings back and forth through time, though not necessarily with perfect rhythm.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Nov 07 2016

...issues do not spring organically from this clumsy novel — a novel that showcases its author’s formidable talents in only half its pages, while bogging down the rest of the time in formulaic and predictable storytelling.

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NY Journal of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Ariel Balter on Mar 24 2017

Swing Time is well written, complex, and thought provoking but also long and overblown; perhaps it takes on a bit too much. While in many ways it is an impressive work, Swing Time is not among Zadie Smith’s finest works.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Annalisa Quinn on Nov 16 2016

She frays the cords that keep us tied to our ideas of who we are, to our careful self-mythologies. Some writers name, organize, and contain; Smith lets contradictions bloom, in all their frightening, uneasy splendor.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Ellen Akins on Nov 11 2016

In “Swing Time,” her first novel in the first person, the transaction becomes more focused and personal, and its cost to the individual powerfully and poignantly clear.

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Book Reporter

Below average
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on Nov 17 2016

Zadie Smith is a stellar writer, and her take on the themes of this book are rich and rewarding. But for me, the many elements did not really cohere, and the non-linear exposition made it difficult to follow.

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Globe and Mail

Good
Reviewed by Durga Chew-Bose on Nov 25 2016

As with Smith’s previous novels, commentary is delightfully folded into the fiction. More so, simulating the novel’s deep appreciation of dance, Smith’s prose, too, takes on a sort of accelerated, feverish cadence. Reading parts aloud to myself only felt natural.

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Karen Long on Nov 10 2016

If ever a novel conjured a sound and dance track, it is “Swing Time,” a multilayered tour-de-force from Zadie Smith.

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The Economist

Good
on Nov 17 2016

Ms Smith has written a powerful story of lives marred by secrets, unfulfilled potential and the unjustness of the world. But she has interwoven it with another beautiful story of the dances people do to rise above it all.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Leah Greenblatt on Nov 11 2016

Swing Time doesn’t have the electric jolt of Teeth’s Technicolor rhythms, but it does offer more insight—an emotional acuity that radiates through a series of small, beautifully crafted revelations.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Sarah Jilani on Nov 07 2016

...a mature Smith uses a newfound artistic control to take on race, class and a cosmopolitan modernity that doesn’t quite let everyone in. Weaving a contemporary, pensive story that gives us more of her vivid characterisation, she drives home the persistence of origins and the fragility of relationships in a media-hungry age.

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Christian Science Monitor

Above average
Reviewed by Yvonne Zipp on Dec 21 2016

The novel explores the lifelong relationship – a complicated mix of love, jealousy, competition, and misunderstanding – along with race, cultural appropriation, what it means to be a strong woman, and the careless side effects of celebrity do-gooderism.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Holly bass on Nov 10 2016

The book relies not on plot or character development but on a series of skillfully rendered passages to propel the story as it swings back and forth through time, though not necessarily with perfect rhythm.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by MICHIKO KAKUTANI on Nov 07 2016

...issues do not spring organically from this clumsy novel — a novel that showcases its author’s formidable talents in only half its pages, while bogging down the rest of the time in formulaic and predictable storytelling.

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Huffington Post

Good
Reviewed by Claire Fallon on Nov 19 2016

In a first-person twist on her buoyant, bustling London narratives, Smith examines the trouble of combining the personal and political, and captures the thrills of girlhood, dance, and first friendship.

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Washington Independent Review of Books

Good
Reviewed by Nathan Blanchard on Dec 28 2016

Swing Time is a capacious novel: childhood, London, career woes, New York, family and friendship, West Africa, how we change over time. It contains passages of psychological and emotional insight, and it is a joy to read.

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USA Today

Above average
Reviewed by Eliot Schrefer on Nov 08 2016

Smith (White Teeth) is a master stylist, delivering revelatory sentences in prose that never once veers into showiness. Though her sentences are tasteful, Smith is always game for a pulpy plot turn...

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20Something Reads

Below average
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on Nov 17 2016

Zadie Smith is a stellar writer, and her take on the themes of this book are rich and rewarding. But for me, the many elements did not really cohere, and the non-linear exposition made it difficult to follow.

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Tampa Bay Times

Good
Reviewed by Colette Bancroft on Nov 17 2016

The narrator's wry voice, mostly sharply self-aware but occasionally painfully not so, is just one of the strengths of Swing Time. Smith creates a large cast of convincing, vivid characters and moves them through a plot that finally partners the two timelines of the narrator's life, bringing all those dancing shadows together.

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Good
Reviewed by Anita Sethi on Dec 17 2016

In this moving story of mothers and daughters, of memory, and music, it's the scenes about dancing that have the greatest energy, with skilful sentences twisting and turning and captivating the attention.

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PopMatters

Above average
Reviewed by WILLIAM HARRISON on Nov 29 2016

Swing Time is an ambitious and fulfilling exploration of this folkloric concept, swinging from one time frame to another without trying to fill in all the gaps.

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The Columbus Dispatch

Below average
on Dec 02 2016

...these sharply rendered chapters explore how friendships change and warp when exposed to the weathering influence of history. But the joyous comedy characterizing "White Teeth" is gone; to an even greater extent than with "NW," history in this often-dark book hurts too much.

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Newsday

Good
Reviewed by Marion Winik on Nov 10 2016

Both a stunning writer on the sentence level and a cunning, trap-setting, theme-braiding storyteller, with “Swing Time” Zadie Smith has written one of her very best books.

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The National

Good
Reviewed by Matthew Adams on Nov 10 2016

The novel that results from these elements is tender, challenging, funny, arresting, and full of intelligence and empathy. Smith writes evocatively of British life in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and penetratingly about the fraught nature, the fragile beauty, of human relationships, human desires, human fears.

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Journal Sentinel

Above average
Reviewed by Mike Fischer on Nov 11 2016

Smith’s novel swings time between the narrator’s formative years in London and her current challenges in Africa; the bridge connecting them isn’t always apparent.

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Scotsman.com

Above average
Reviewed by Stuart Kelly on Nov 13 2016

It does reflect the banality of some of our criticism, but I doubt any reader would not find Swing Time to be zippy, important, controversial and literary in the more common senses of those words. As well as the shrewd observation and sly satire we expect from Smith...

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Post and Courier

Good
Reviewed by JEREMY RUTLEDGE on Jan 15 2017

..."Swing Time" is a beautiful book for anyone willing to dance with the great and ordinary themes of life: Where did we come from and where are we going? Will we dance to the music that is playing? What will we make of the pain and promise of this life?

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Irish Times

Below average
Reviewed by JOHN BOYNE on Nov 12 2016

The tone of the novel is faulty from the start. The first person narrator of a long novel needs to have a lively voice, one that can engage the reader early on but she’s so dull, lacking any discernible wit, intelligence or ambition that she feels less of an independent character and more of an appendage to others...

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London Review of Books

Good
Reviewed by Joanna Biggs on Dec 01 2016

...it is another way of emphasising Smith’s universal, recurring message: our differences are less important than our similarities.

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The New York Review of Books

Good
Reviewed by Claire Messud on Dec 08 2016

Highly ambitious, overflowing, sometimes messy, this novel resists familiar satisfactions, as it resists containment or easy categorization. This, for “the nearest thing to life,” is a high achievement.

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New Statesman

Below average
Reviewed by Alice O'Keeffe on Nov 11 2016

It’s too much of a stretch, even for Smith. Those questions about guilt, inequality and obligation would have arisen more naturally and worked more effectively had she kept faith with her original characters.

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The Australian

Good
Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes on Nov 19 2016

...Smith’s narrator dissects and appraises her beloved dance musicals, she talks of plot being incidental, a mere conduit to the real highlight, dance. “The story,” she says, “was the price you paid for the rhythm.” The same can be said of Swing Time. Smith spins a tale and thickens her plot, but the real appeal is the way her characters move.

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Herald Scotland

Above average
Reviewed by Stephen Phelan on Nov 18 2016

Some readers might recognise themselves more readily than others in the narrator's struggles...But Smith's sense of timing is impeccable...

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Fiction Writers Review

Good
Reviewed by Natalie Bakopoulos on Nov 30 2016

Intentionally political or not, Zadie Smith is without question one of our most astute cultural critics, and Swing Time (The Penguin Press), like her previous four novels, showcases her keen ability to examine a character’s psychological landscape while interrogating a cultural moment.

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Kansas City Star

Above average
Reviewed by Christine Pivovar on Nov 26 2016

“Swing Time” is an engaging book, and worth reading for its critical eye on wealthy, Western assumptions about the world. But unlike the Fred Astaire musicals the narrator loves so much, the novel isn’t quite fun, and it is poorer for that.

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Ploughshares Literary Magazine

Good
Reviewed by Spencer Ruchti on Mar 29 2017

Smith gifts us “the ambient noise of the contemporary,” as she calls it in an essay about David Foster Wallace’s fiction. In a novel about history, about generations, reading Swing Time is like suddenly remembering a song you used to love.

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Alibi

Good
Reviewed by Maggie Grimason on Feb 09 2017

Powerful without being overly didactic, this is also a book about privilege—where it springs from and how it manifests itself. As such, the novel is timely and precise while being wonderfully accessible.

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Prospect

Good
Reviewed by Sameer Rahim on Oct 12 2016

This novel certainly has flaws—she has always had a problem with endings—but its author has the humility to realise that she is still a work-in-progress.

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Vogue

Good
Reviewed by Megan O'Grady on Oct 26 2016

The anxieties that fueled Smith’s last novel, NW, here acquire amplitude and complexity, as well as, perhaps, the added depth charge of a parent’s empathy (the novel is dedicated to the author’s mother, Yvonne, one of its early readers). No detail feels extraneous...

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The Spec.com

Above average
Reviewed by Sadiya Ansari on Nov 16 2016

The plot itself isn't what will keep you thinking about the book — it's the puzzles Smith has laid out that readers will keep returning to.

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National Post arts

Above average
Reviewed by Robert Cushman on Dec 16 2016

...Astaire, paying tribute to the great Bill Robinson, is dancing in blackface. “I’d managed to block the childhood image from my memory,” she says, and I imagine everything else follows from that. I don’t think it does; the book sprawls too much. But it does swing.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by TAIYE SELASI on Nov 13 2016

Like all of Smith’s novels, Swing Time has brilliant things to say about race, class, and gender, but its most poignant comment is perhaps this. Given who we are, who we are told that we are not, and who we imagine we might become, how do we find our way home?

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Aminatta Forna on Nov 04 2016

The novel’s strength lies in its unflinching portrait of friendship, driven as much by jealousy and competition as by love and loyalty.

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https://www.washingtonpost.com

Good
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Nov 09 2016

“Swing Time” uses its extraordinary breadth and its syncopated structure to turn the issues of race and class in every direction. As in the work of any great choreographer, movements that seem initially extraneous eventually prove essential.

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Toronto Star

Good
Reviewed by Sadiya Ansari on Nov 13 2016

The plot itself isn’t what will keep you thinking about the book — it’s the puzzles Smith has laid out that readers will keep returning to.

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https://www.booklistonline.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Donna Seaman on Oct 01 2016

...Swing Time is an acidly funny, fluently global, and head-spinning novel about the quest for meaning, exaltation, and love. Excitement always surrounds much-lauded Smith’s books (NW, 2012), and this tale of friendship lost and found is going to be big.

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https://litreactor.com

Above average
Reviewed by BH SHEPHERD on Nov 15 2016

I’m generally not a fan of coming-of-age stories, as they tend to be formulaic and fairly similar. Swing Time broke the mold in some interesting ways, and managed to make the life story of a rather boring person quite entertaining.

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http://millstonenews.com

Good
Reviewed by Edith Cody-Rice on Nov 26 2016

I definitely recommend this novel to your Christmas list. An added intelligent element is that chapters are relatively short, meaning that you can read one more before your put out your bedside light.

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Reader Rating for Swing Time
66%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 221 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


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