cover image The Last White Man

The Last White Man

Mohsin Hamid. Riverhead, $26 (192p) ISBN 978-0-593-53881-4

On the first page of Hamid’s underwhelming latest (after Exit West), a white man named Anders wakes up to find he has mysteriously “turned a deep and undeniable brown.” From this Kafkaesque beginning, Hamid spins a timely if unsatisfying racial allegory in which, one after another, the white inhabitants of an unnamed country become dark-skinned. Hamid mutes the power by harnessing his plot to the dishwater-dull Anders, who works at a gym, and his equally bland girlfriend, Oona, a yoga instructor. The lack of social context is also puzzling, with the story set in an unspecified time and place largely stripped of historical and cultural detail. Hamid employs a cool, spare prose style with little dialogue, leaving the reader to feel like the action of the novel is taking place behind a wall of soundproof glass. The glass briefly shatters when white militants come for Anders, though the author quickly turns back the threat. Later, when Oona’s mother, who indulges in right-wing conspiracy theories, is sickened by the sight of her white daughter in bed with dark-skinned Anders, Hamid taps the rich potential of his premise. For the most part, though, this remains stubbornly inert. Agent: Jay Mandel, WME. (Aug.)