Race and Ethnicity:
Smith's multicultural cast of characters is a cross-section of modern London. In the simplest
sense, we have: English, Jamaicans, and Bengalis. However, Smith is too realistic in her
examinations of human nature to leave the issue of race and ethnicity so clear-cut. Her
characters are caught between different cultures. When Clara is a teenager she, like Millat, is
trapped between honoring her parents' heritage and exploring the Western pop culture around
her. When she strays from her heritage the first time, her teeth are knocked out. When she strays
a second time by marrying Archie, Hortense disowns her. Millat faces similar rejection when he
strays from Samad's plan for him to have traditional, Bengali views. Samad labels him a "good-
for-nothing" while doting on Magid. As though in revenge, Millat becomes a militant
fundamentalist. Magid is also caught between cultures, but strays in the opposite direction. He
finds inspiration in the secular, embracing genetic engineering as the new form of God. At the end
of the novel, Samad finds himself caught between two sons who, in their opposite ways, betray
his concept of Bengali identity.
Irie is caught between cultures in her very genetics: she is half Jamaican and half English. Unlike
Samad, Archie and Clara have no burning desire for their child to embrace a certain cultural
heritage. However, as Irie tries to establish her individuality as a teenager, she finds herself
longing to know more about her ethnicity. While flatly rejecting reliance on the past and
embracing Chalfenism, Irie still wants to know what it is to be from Jamaica. After researching the
family files at Hortense's house, she begins to consider Jamaica her "homeland." Irie's daughter
has the most complex race or ethnicity of all the characters, though we meet her only briefly. She
represents the unification of all the character's ethnicities, as she is English, Jamaican, and
Other manifestations of mixed ethnicity in the novel include Samad's restaurant, where the food is
so anglified it is no longer Indian, and O'Connell's, an Irish pub run by a Middle-Eastern Muslim
with a distinctly American nickname.
In Islam, a scholar.
Of or relating to the Chalfen family. Characterized by intellectual gusto, atheism,
directness of expression, and a tendency to deal with things in the present.
A condition in which the patient secretes blood from his eyes when insulin levels in
the blood are low. Dr. Perret suffers from this condition.