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The Last White Man


The Last White Man

THE LAST WHITE MAN will be compared to Franz Kafka’s THE METAMORPHOSIS, though it’s an uncomfortable comparison. The overarching attempt to bring to literary fruition a sea change so intense and with no discernible reason is the main bridge between the two books. However, with the long and winding road of text that feels as if we are inside the brain of our protagonist, Anders --- reading his confused, fugitive thoughts --- Mohsin Hamid pushes us into a dark and swirling river where all we can do is focus on paddling and staying afloat. Our questions are not going to be answered.

Anders changes color. So do a number of people around him. One day, life is normal and he is a white man; the next day, his skin has turned dark. There is no explanation, no agency in this occurrence --- it just happens. Like Kafka’s tale, there is no attempt to let us in on what is happening. And it immediately puts us in a strange and discomfiting situation. Is this going to be a story about tolerance, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes? Or will it be a cry against the intolerance with which our planet finds itself struggling against in so many ways in these very wild times? Anders’ girlfriend Oona, his boss at the gym where he works, and Oona’s mom all undergo this same sudden transformation with varying degrees of acceptance and confusion. What is going on? And who is the last white man?

"[U]nlike most dystopian fables of our time, the specifics of the personal is far more haunting than big bold swipes at societal failure and illusion."

I suppose it behooves Hamid, a heavily lauded author, to allow himself to just tell a story without wrapping up all the ends neatly for us. He doesn’t want us to walk away unscathed, marking the novel on a list somewhere and not thinking twice about the experience. This book is indeed an experience. However, it will not help us figure out the conundrum of race and identity in which society is presently embroiled. He gives us the “What if?” without the “What then?”

The story is very personal to Anders and his private world. Oona, his friend with benefits, cares for him regardless of what he looks like. His boss eventually succumbs as well, and together they just go on, although the gym environment begins to get a little testy as people figure out if their outward changes match inward ones as well (they don’t). The hippie in me was hoping for a poetic fable about how we are all one, no matter what we look like. Hamid has other plans for his readers.

The relationship between Anders and his dying dad is the relationship that gets the most attention, and it is a very important one. Although the book allows a small disassociated acknowledgement of what is going on in the world-at-large as these changes occur to more and more people (there is dissention, rioting and all the usual dystopian experiences revving up), Anders and Oona are not embroiled in them. Instead, it is the changes in their personal lives (Oona and her mother also have a radical shift in their relationship with each other) that matters the most. How does your physical identity change your association with those who know and love you the most? THE LAST WHITE MAN is a very peculiar walk into this hot-button issue.

As the mother of a trans child, I read this novel as it relates to my own maternal experience. Ultimately, the truth is that the “new” person you love is the same person you loved before, regardless of skin color, hairstyle, gender or sexual identity. It is the true humanity of a person that attracts or doesn’t attract us, that makes us love or not love someone, that binds us together with others or not. At first thought, Hamid was ignoring the essential societal questions about these ideas, but really he is addressing the more important personal ones.

Jerry Seinfeld once made a joke about how you love a player when he’s on your team, but then he's traded and you hate him because he’s no longer in the right shirt. How silly is that, really? The deeper ties that bind us together do go and must go deeper than what we wear in public. These are the things that THE LAST WHITE MAN inspires you to delve into --- and, unlike most dystopian fables of our time, the specifics of the personal is far more haunting than big bold swipes at societal failure and illusion.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on August 19, 2022

The Last White Man
by Mohsin Hamid

  • Publication Date: June 13, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 059353882X
  • ISBN-13: 9780593538821