Two young white people deal with a changing world after one of them wakes up one morning with dark skin. Soon, others start to change and unrest grows.
From the New York Times-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 neighbors, 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.
In Mohsin Hamid’s “lyrical and urgent” prose (O Magazine), The Last White Man powerfully uplifts our capacity for empathy and the transcendence over bigotry, fear, and anger it can achieve.
The Last White Man is inventive in its premise to broaching racism and racial ties. The story begins when the protagonist Anders wakes up to discover that his skin is changed from white to dark overnight. It is soon apparent that this is not an isolated incident as more people in town begin changing.
After enjoying Mohsin Hamid’s previous book, Exit West, I was excited to read a copy of The Last White Man. But I have to say that I finished disappointed. While the premise of this book had a ton of promise, the execution fell short.
Let me start with the great: the writing. The Last White Man is nothing if not poetic. Initially, I was skeptical of the long sentences full of commas. However, I quickly came round after only reading a page or two. Hamid’s beautifully crafted language was lyrical and flowed almost rhythmically. The prose is without a doubt the star of this book.
There was so much potential in the concept of The Last White Man. The idea of white people suddenly waking up with dark skin and having to live in our currently racially-charged world an unrecognizable person is a fascinating one. Yet, it was never given a chance to be fully explored in the short 192 pages that encompassed the book. Sadly, more space was given to the relationship between Anders and Oona than to the repercussions of “the change.” Instead of diving into the consequences and events after people waking darkened, grief based upon the loss of loved ones was the primary focus. I wanted the book to really make me think about our current time and ponder the alternative history presented for days after I finished. But I found the story to be shallow where I wished it was deep. If Hamid’s primary purpose was to explore grief, I am not sure he was even successful with that.
Overall, I was left frustrated at the missed opportunity that is The Last White Man. I still think it is worth a read, especially if you provide yourself time to really ponder the concept afterward. While the prose is the best I have read this year, I cannot say the same for the book in its entirety.
The Last White Man
August 2, 2022
Note: I received a galley of this book from the publisher, Riverhead Books. Regardless, I always provide a fair and honest review.