Feel Free, Zadie Smith, author; Nikki Amuka-Bird, narrator
To be honest, I wanted to stop listening to this book on many occasions because, at times, it was over my head. However, the spectacular quality of the narrator’s reading voice and accent coupled with the magnificent prose of the author kept making me return, even when I could not quite understand the essay, because I could always understand the narrator’s interpretation, and therefore, get some message from the piece.
This admittedly left-leaning author admits that she wrote these essays during the time of Obama’s reign. She adores him and views Trump as a harbinger of disaster. Now, a year and a half into his Presidency, I do not know if her view has changed, but as a committed Liberal, I doubt it. Whether or not it has changed, had no bearing on my appreciation of her essays. I found, though, that she introduces race, and her own view of it, very often. During Obama’s term, I believe the public became more willing to hear alternate views, even when they conflicted with their own, opening a window that seemed, previously, to be kept purposely opaque.
Although I did not find this discussed in reviews, which surprised me, her analysis of race and racial issues, especially as someone who is biracial, is far different than my own, as a white person, on many levels, which leads me to believe that the divide between the the races when interpreting life situations, is far broader and wider than generally understood. As a person of the Jewish faith, as well, I can understand suspicion, fear and even animosity toward some, but I don’t find the negative perceptions and perhaps grudges that are held against some who represent past heinous behavior, as pervasive in my life, as it seemed to come across with regard to her perceptions in her life and the life of others of color. Still, I found many of her arguments had merit and were worthy of further thought and introspection. Overall, I found, for me, the point is to get each party to come to the middle, to try and understand the divide and bridge the gap. I am hoping that I will better understand her views and be able to reconcile them with my own.
Smith writes on a variety of topics. I don’t even pretend to understand all of her ideas or her philosophy or even her selection of subject matter, at times, but I admired the power of her words, so expressive and analytical were they. The words just seemed to naturally come forth from this author’s hand, in spite of the fact that she disparages her lack of education and laments the fact that so many others with far greater degrees have achieved far less than she has. Yet, so many of the better educated can’t seem to put two intelligent words together to make a sentence that paints any image and she paints masterpieces with her vocabulary.
Some of the topics she discusses are libraries and what they represent to her and the world, socialism and how it served her needs when she was growing up without having everything she wanted or needed, climate change and the perception of some she views as less than bright, the insect world and our perception of it. She analyzes films and comedy skits, art and artists, different forms of music and composers, writers and their intentions, dancers and their identities, realism vs. idealism, the gap that exists between classes, the current immigration policy compared with how it used to be, relationships in families and with friends, suicides, illness, Brexit, Comedy Central and the stars it created, compassion, the internet and its pitfalls, being biracial in a white world, the injustice of the justice system and more.
Her book sometimes reads like a who’s who with so many names dropped, some familiar, some less so, like Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Philip Roth, Jay Z, Beyonce, Sorkin, Zuckerberg, Schopenhauer, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Hurston, Nabokov, Emmett Till, Baryshnikov, Marquez, Astaire, Bojangles, Kelly, Nureyev, Prince, Murdock, Nigel Farage, and Michael Jackson, to name just some of the myriad personalities that appear in her essays and run the gamut of subject matter. She dissects each subject with a fine tooth comb and makes the reader really think about her message.
At one point, I felt like I was part of the narrative. She brought up the Marcy Housing Project, in Brooklyn, where Jay Z grew up, because as a young teacher, of 20 years, when I thought I could change the world and make it a better place, I taught the children that lived there. It was not an easy lifestyle to survive or a very nice place to live, even decades ago.
There is something for everyone in this book, but not everyone will be able to understand all of the essays. Truthfully, I am not a genius, but I consider myself fairly well educated, and I had trouble deciphering some. That is why I highly recommend it in print version, so it can be read in small doses and delved into more deeply. Each essay imparts an important message. The author’s choice of subject matter, diverse as it is, is very intriguing; the reader will be inspired and encouraged to seek more information to better understand Zadie Smith’s philosophy on each subject.