Growing Up Gracefully

"Only connect the prose and the passion," wrote British novelist E.M. Forster, "and both will be exalted." Zadie Smith's third novel, On Beauty, does, and they are. Beautifully written, it is — like her debut best seller White Teeth — essentially a story about families, expansive enough to encompass questions of race, Rembrandt, aging gracefully (or not), love, fidelity and, as the title suggests, recognizing what is truly beautiful and how we make it a part of our lives.

Smith, as she makes clear in her acknowledgments, is indebted to Forster for more than good advice. On Beauty...

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