In Zadie Smith's third book, On Beauty, she returns to the woderful storytelling that she showed in White Teeth. This time she brings the story to America, to the fictional Wellington College, in Massachussetts.
Howard Belsey is an Art History professor there, specializing in 17th century art. He is an Englishman, married to a woman from the Carribbean, Kiki. Their marriage is based upon that in E.M. Forster's Howard's End (a book that I strongly suggest reading, or re-reading, after or before you have read this one). However, instead of a mixed-class marriage, theirs is a mixed-race marriage. Kiki and Howard have three children: Jerome, who remains firmly fixed in the white world of their father; Levy, who maintains a black identity; and Zora, a brilliant student at Wellington, who is stuck in the middle between black and white. How their try to reconcile the difference is at the heart of this wonderful novel.
Their peace is shattered when Monty Kipps comes for a short stay to teach at the college. He is a professor of Black Studies, and married to a white woman. Monty and Howard are professionally at odd ends, and they bring their rivalry to the front during faculty meetings. This is a wonderful story, with mixed and hidden messages. It's not a book for everyone. Reading Howard's End will help to partially solve some of the mysteries that this book contains.