Smith's reputation as a novelist gets bigger with every book. In her latest, which won Britain's 2006 Orange Prize for fiction, she tells the story of Englishman Howard Belsey, a white, liberal academic who specializes in Rembrandt and teaches at Wellington, an Ivy League school in the States. Howard's marriage to Kiki, an African-American woman, is failing, and when he cheats on her, everything seems to fall apart. Their teenage children, Jerome, Zora and Levi, are struggling to cope with their mixed racial backgrounds. Zora is a strong-willed feminist and college sophomore; Levi dresses like a homeboy; and Jerome is simply disdainful of his father. And then there's the Kipps clan. Monty Kipps, a conservative West Indian, is Jerome's opposite a Rembrandt scholar who has achieved a greater level of success in the academic world and an overt Christian. Old rivals, the two men clash repeatedly over artistic and political matters. The tension between them is heightened when Kipps accepts a visiting professor position at Wellington. To make things worse, Jerome falls for Monty's daughter, young Victoria Kipps, and Howard finds himself mixed up in the affair. At the age of 31, Smith has produced another remarkably mature novel, a perceptive look at race, class and human relationships that's also a terrific spoof of academia.
A reading group guide is available online at www.penguin.com.