The Last White Man: From the Booker-shortlisted author of Exit West

Mohsin Hamid

The Last White Man: From the Booker-shortlisted author of Exit West
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The Last White Man: From the Booker-shortlisted author of Exit West

Mohsin Hamid

From the internationally bestselling author of Exit West, a story of love, loss, and rediscovery in a time of unsettling change.


One morning, a man wakes up to find himself transformed. Overnight, Anders’s skin has turned dark, and the reflection in the mirror seems a stranger to him. At first he shares his secret only with Oona, an old friend turned new lover. Soon, reports of similar events begin to surface. Across the land, people are awakening in new incarnations, uncertain how their neighbours, friends, and family will greet them. Some see the transformations as the long-dreaded overturning of the established order that must be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders’s father and Oona’s mother, a sense of profound loss and unease wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance at a kind of rebirth - an opportunity to see ourselves, face to face, anew.

The Last White Man uplifts our capacity for empathy and the transcendence it allows, a migration of consciousness powerfully enacted by the novel itself.

Review

Mohsin Hamid is known for writing short novels with a big impact. The Reluctant Fundamentalist provided readers with a sympathetic Islamic fundamentalist in the wake of September 11. Exit West used magic realism and a love story to explore the refugee crisis. This latest novel, similarly, pulls no punches.

The Last White Man opens with one of the most scintillating lines to grace a first page this year: ‘One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.’ In a panic, Anders turns to Oona, his on-again, off-again lover, for comfort and support and both characters are forced to reckon with what whiteness, and loss of whiteness, means.

Although Anders may be the first to turn, he isn’t the last. In a turn of events worthy of José Saramago, slowly every white person in the unnamed (although presumably Scandinavian and, therefore, presumably majority Caucasian) city turns brown, leading to crises of identity, vigilante white supremacy and even suicide. The novel explores white anxiety – the anxiety of feeling ‘threatened’ by the loss of privilege and a majority position. The Last White Man also tackles what Hamid has referred to as ‘violently nostalgic visions’ that prevent our ability to imagine new futures. Individuals, along with society, must reconcile who they were with who they are now and who they want to be in the future – a philosophical, sociological, and political question that is prompted by a physiological change. Who are you if you’re no longer white?

This is a lot to pack into just under 200 pages but, as mentioned above, Hamid is an old hand at challenging his readers’ world view in a one-sitting read. Hamid has already been twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize; this may very well be the book that gives him his hattrick – and perhaps a win.

Tristen Brudy is from Readings Carlton

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