Book Review: The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid

I have read a couple of other books by Mohsin Hamid and have found them interesting.  So when I came across his latest book I added it to the TBR list.

Publisher

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.

My Take

The odd thing about The Last White Man is that it is better at exploring family dynamics and relationships than saying anything about race or skin color… but perhaps that is the point.

I’m not sure because nothing really is clear in the end. The basic idea, what if people just woke up dark skinned, is thought provoking but everything after is so vague and generic that I am not sure any insights really are brought to light.

What saved it for me was the way the book explored relationships and family during a time of social crisis. The pandemic is definitely a presence as are the riots. I found it interesting to see how the main characters navigated their way through turbulent times in both their relationship and with their parents. But what struck me was how this dynamic was not inherently tied to skin color but anything that causes this type of tension, or questions things that are deeply held, like politics, religion, etc.

The other thing that makes this story sit just outside the debates about race is that having dark skin does not neatly overlap with the concept of race in America. Again, maybe Hamid was just trying to explore all of these issues without focusing too narrowly on one specific issue. But it doesn’t really cohere in the end. Just feels a little too fuzzy.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.