📖: Zadie Smith’s Swing Time (2016)
🍸: dancing friend
Why this book?
The experience of reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time felt like peeling back a giant onion. The novel is complex, nuanced, and multi-layered. It is a more of a collection of ideas and cultural analyses, than a plot-based story.
I started the book expecting a story about two best friends — the unnamed protagonist and Tracey. It starts that way, but I soon realized it was a lifelong reflection on a complicated relationship that quickly diverges into two paths determined by race, class, gender, and privilege.
While the girls’ friendship is shaped through dance, the book is more than just about their attachment to the art form. As we follow the protagonist in her job as an assistant to white pop star Aimee, I found that the novel leverages dance and music for a larger discussion of cultural appropriation, globalization, celebrity, race, and power.
The novel also reads like a tale of socioeconomic mobility, but it is really about the search for identity. The more time the protagonist spends working for Aimee, the more she distances herself from her roots of growing up poor in North London. But no matter where she goes or how much success she attains, she remains isolated, lost, and dissatisfied. She attaches her identity to the women around her, like Tracey and Aimee, but she can never quite grow into the woman she wants to be.
The novel closes with the protagonist watching Tracey dancing with her children in the same public housing building in which the girls grew up. This scene left me with questions that linger long after I finished the book. No matter where we go or what we become throughout our lives, do we always end where we begin? What kind of agency do we have in defining our own identities? Do we only become our true selves — our happiest selves — by returning to where we came from?
Why this drink?
This drink is a modified version of the Corpse Reviver 2, which Harry Craddock, (famous bartender who worked at the Savoy Hotel in London in the 1920’s and 1930’s), included in his 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book.
Since the title of Zadie Smith’s novel references the 1936 Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie of the same name, I wanted to pair it with a spin-off of a cocktail that was popular during the 1930’s. The Corpse Revivor 2 also originated in England, which serves as the setting of Smith’s novel during the protagonist’s childhood and adolescence.
The recipe I used is Alicia Perry’s Corpse Reviver No. 2. I adapted it with substitutes like white wine, triple sec, and star anise to replace some of the fancier spirits that I do not currently have access to in quarantine.
1 oz gin
3/4 oz sauvignon blanc
3/4 oz triple sec
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup*
*for garnish: star anise and lemon twist/wheel
- combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well
- serve in a chilled glass
- garnish with a lemon twist/wheel and star anise
*how to make simple syrup: Pour sugar and water into a pan (using a 1:1 sugar-to-water ratio) and heat the mixture on the stove until it starts to bubble. Once tiny bubbles start to appear, immediately take the boiling syrup off the stove and pour it into the into a glass jar. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool.
If you don’t have sauvignon blanc, use whatever other dry white wine you have on hand. The original recipe calls for Lillet Blanc. Similar spirits like Cocchi Americano and Short Path’s Americano Blanc should work, too.
If you don’t have triple sec, Cointreau will do! The original recipe calls for Cointreau anyway, but I think other orange based liqueurs will do, like Grand Marnier or curaçao.
If you don’t have star anise, but have anise extract, a drop or two (to taste) could serve as an alternative. The original recipe calls for absinthe to rinse the glass. Since this is such a small amount, it’s really to give the drink another dimension of flavor and scent. If you don’t have absinthe or a sub for it, omit this ingredient altogether.
Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
And check out these reviews to learn more about the book:
- Zadie Smith’s New Novel Takes on Dance, Fame and Friendship, by Holly Bass, The New York Times, Nov 10, 2016
- Swing Time by Zadie Smith review – a classic story of betterment, by Taiye Selasi, The Guardian, Nov 13, 2016
- Know Thyself? ‘Swing Time’ Says It’s Complicated, by Annalisa Quinn, NPR, November 16, 2016
- Zadie Smith’s Dance of Ambivalence, by Dayna Tortorici, The Atlantic, Dec 2016