First off, a further observation about Archie's role in the finale. Emily, my wife, read White Teeth and loved it, but she doesn't have the time to post here. Last night, I asked her about the Archie question, and she had some great insight to it, which I'm going to try to reproduce here. But I'll probably fail. The book opens with Archie trying to kill himself, but he's saved by the halal butcher, who actually isn't trying to save him at all. In that case, the butcher saving Archie is an example of Britain's changing, increasingly multi-racial culture rescuing someone of the "old guard." The ending is the inverse, with Archie making a save for the culture. Both times, though, go off mostly by happenstance -- which reinforces the anti-deterministic streak of the book.
I definitely think White Teeth was supposed to be more about a series of conflicts and contrasts--fate v. coincidence, present v. past, generations v. each other, determinism v. chaos--than it was supposed to be about people's lives. I think it primarily explored how those conflicts shape lives. Not vice versa. I've read many other books that deal much more with character first, "ideas" second. Smith's priorities are pretty clear to me. I think you're measuring it with the wrong yardstick.
But writing primarily about the conflicts I listed does not mean that you're writing about nothing "anchored in reality," as you put it. Those conflicts and contrasts are just as "real" as a person, especially in what is, after all, a work of fiction, not a documentary account of real events.
How is it racist to call a Chinese burn a Chinese burn? I'm not familiar with the etymology there.
Well, you can pick two books if you want, but I just thought in the interest of variety we should just let each participant pick one book at a time, rather than letting someone hold us hostage to their tastes for a disproportionate amount of time. : ) Why don't you just name us one book to start with, at least? Whatever it is, it'll have to wait until I finish the Haruki Murakami book I'm reading right now.