Almost all of us, at some point of time, have wondered what it would be like to wake up as someone else. Someone better- looking, more privileged, more accomplished. In Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel, The Last White Man, it comes true for the protagonist, Anders—a white man in an American town, except that he wakes up as a black man.
Hamid’s nearly 200-page novel follows Anders’s life in the aftermath of this unsettling development and how he comes to terms with it. It chronicles his journey, external and internal, of coping with the idea of being different. Moving forward in the story, we see that like him, gradually all white residents of the town turn black, creating a seemingly uniform, homogenous town, at least on the outside.
What this short and quick read does, at an elementary level, is holding a mirror to society in general, and
a majority community’s sense of entitlement, in particular; in this case, the whites in an American town. Through the eyes of the many who turn, including Anders, his lover Oona and her mother, it brings to the fore the unfiltered predispositions about people of a less-privileged community, which has been subject to discrimination for centuries.
Like all literature is expected to, this novel too rattles the accepted notions of identity, but Hamid turns the tables, and the erstwhile privileged scramble to belong, as they are compelled to walk in the others’ shoes.
What works wonderfully for this book is its language. Hamid’s prose has a rhythm akin to that of a mind racing with ideas. His sentences are long, multi-claused, and winding, but never convoluted. The clarity of thought is impeccable. There is the repetition of nouns, phrases, and generously at that, but it is never redundant. Each word is written with a purpose. The tone is emphatic, evoking a sense of much-needed urgency.
The social intent of the central narrative is complemented by two subplots—Anders’s relationships with his ailing father, and his evolving bond with Oona. As more people turn, riots take over the city as whites blame the blacks for “infecting” them. Anders finds a safe space at his father’s home.
Forced to spend time together, the father-son relationship that had lost its sheen in the last several years, especially after Anders’s mother passed away, rejuvenates. Anders stays with his father till he breathes his last.
Oona, who was almost on the verge of breaking off the relationship at the beginning of the novel, discovers a new person in Anders after he changes. Soon enough, she changes too, both on the outside. They bond over loss and grief (Oona had lost both her father and brother). Why they couldn’t connect earlier is unclear, but the events around them certainly put things in perspective, much like this novel.
The Last White Man
By: Mohsin Hamid
Price: Rs 599