From the Washington Post book review section about a novel called The Last White Man by McKinsey consultant turned novelist Mohsin Hamid, who is based in England.
‘The Last White Man’ is a fantastical exploration of race and privilege
Review by Ron Charles
August 2, 2022 at 10:00 a.m. EDT
More than a century ago, Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams and found himself transformed into a monstrous insect.
Mohsin Hamid’s new novel, “The Last White Man,” buzzes with an ironic allusion to that unsettling metamorphosis. In the opening sentence, a White man named Anders awakens one morning to discover that his skin has turned “a deep and undeniable brown.” Following Kafka’s lead, the cause of this sudden alteration remains unknown; its meaning is equally elusive. What follows sometimes feels like a curious thought experiment — or Tucker Carlson’s worst nightmare, a racist fever dream of “the great replacement theory.”
… Rage at his new situation, twinned with nostalgia for his lost identity, sends Anders back to bed. “He realized that he had been robbed,” Hamid writes, “that he was the victim of a crime, the horror of which only grew, a crime that had taken everything from him, that had taken him from him.” In such moments, which lurk all over this novel, one feels the fierce sting of Hamid’s insight, his ability to articulate the cherished premises of White superiority.
Hoping against hope that his condition might spontaneously reverse itself, Anders tells his manager he’s too sick to come into work. Only hunger eventually forces him outside, back into the company of others. No one at the grocery store seems to notice his transformation — or seems to notice him at all, in fact — but Anders suspects “flickers of hostility or distaste” from White people. And he quickly comprehends the social exigencies of his revised appearance. He knows instinctively that “it was essential not to be seen as a threat, for to be seen as a threat, as dark as he was, was to risk one day being obliterated.”
… The darkening that befalls Anders is happening all over this unnamed town. Everywhere, formerly White people are waking up with skin “a deep and undeniable brown.”
To the conspiracy minded, hypnotized by incendiary websites and radio shows, this skin-deep change is a calamity, the horrifying culmination of a diabolical “plot against their kind.” Violence flares. “Pale-skinned militants, some dressed almost like soldiers in combat uniform,” take to the streets. Social media lights up with frantic talk of “a miracle drug … to undo the horror.” In despair, some newly darkened people kill themselves.
“The Last White Man” is a discomfiting little book, which I suspect resists what some readers would like it to be. It’s too sincere for dystopian satire, too earnest for cultural parody. It describes the apocalypse long feared by white supremacists by subjecting that paranoia to blistering attention….
Such a story could be written only by an author who is entirely candid about his awkward journey along the racial spectrum. In an essay published recently in the Guardian, Hamid explained that “The Last White Man” evolved from his sudden loss of White privilege after 9/11. “I had always been a brown man with a Muslim name,” he writes. “But I had been white enough — as a relatively well-paid, university-educated inhabitant of cosmopolitan cities — to partake in many of the benefits of whiteness. And now my partial membership was being revoked.” In the anxious days and months after al-Qaeda’s surprise attack on the United States, Hamid found himself detained for questioning at airports and eyed with fear by fellow passengers on buses and trains. In a moment, it seemed, his skin had turned dark and suspicious.
My guess is that Hamid’s family are proud of how fair-skinned they are compared to other South Asians, so he was outraged, after his fellow Muslims murdered 3000 Americans, by the sheer impertinence of somebody of his genetic quality being subjected to any scrutiny.
The tone of “The Last White Man” echoes that complicated, shameful grief. Contemplating “the odd wrapper he was wrapped in,” Anders mourns the loss of his Whiteness and the advantages with which it once endowed him — even as he comes to realize the artificiality and cruelty of the vanishing system that held him aloft.
For a novel that explores the functions and presumptions of racism, “The Last White Man” is a peculiarly hopeful story. Its method may be fantastical speculation, but its faith eventually leads to the inevitability of social enlightenment. It anticipates that sweet day — not forever deferred, surely — when we finally close the casket on the whole horrific construct of racial hierarchies and see each other for what we are.
The extinction of the white race seems like a popular topic for a novel:
“Fantastical treatments of race have long served to underscore just how absurd it is that this social construct should wield so much power. Hamid’s novel follows in this legacy, challenging readers to consider the ways in which something as superficial as the color of one’s skin holds sway in their lives.”—TIME
“A moral fable for our entire harrowing world. . . . exquisitely evoked by Hamid in a mesmerizing, serpentine style. . . .The Last White Man offers its own small ray of light.”—Los Angeles Times
“Searing, exhilarating. . . . reimagines Kafka’s iconic The Metamorphosis for our racially charged era. … Hamid brings a restless, relentless brilliance to his characters’ journeys and the revelations, public and private, that inform us all. … Gorgeously crafted, morally authoritative, The Last White Man concludes on a note of hope, a door jarred open just enough to let transcendence pour through.” —Oprah Daily
“Hamid’s likely readers already know race is a ‘construct’ that we could do nicely without. . . . But whether deliberately or not—and Hamid’s too smart a writer not to know what he’s doing—The Last White Man has an additional agenda: to destabilize not just our toxic imaginings but our conventional notions of fiction itself.”—New York Times Book Review
“An effective allegory on race and racism in America. . . . Thoughtful writers like Hamid are essential.” —Star Tribune
“A Kafka-centric allegory on racism and the loss of white privilege. . . . The Last White Man begs the question of how deep the well of empathy and unity runs, making this an engaging read book-lovers don’t want to miss.” —PopSugar
“An emotionally gut-punching exploration of race, privilege, grief, and white anxiety.” —Mother Jones
“A frighteningly timely allegory about welcome forms of progress and the fears of people unable or unwilling to grow.” —Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“A brilliantly realized allegory of racial transformation. . . . Hamid’s story is poignant and pointed, speaking to a more equitable future in which widespread change, though confusing and dislocating in the moment, can serve to erase the divisions of old as they fade away with the passing years. A provocative tale that raises questions of racial and social justice at every turn.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“Hamid. . . reminds us yet again that fiction sometimes provides the most direct path to truth.” —BookPage (starred review)
“Concise, powerful. . . . Hamid imaginatively takes on timely, universal topics, including identity, grief, community, family, race, and what it means to live through sudden and often violent change.” —Booklist
“With one remarkable book after another, Mohsin Hamid has proven himself to be one of the 21st century’s most essential writers. This is, perhaps, his most remarkable work yet. THE LAST WHITE MAN is myth and poetry operating as a deeper form of social commentary, and an extraordinary vision of human possibility.” —Ayad Akhtar, author of Homeland Elegies
Yet, judging from Hamid’s Wikipedia entry, the white man has been very very good to Mr. Hamid:
Mohsin Hamid (Urdu: محسن حامد; born 23 July 1971) is a British Pakistani novelist, writer and brand consultant.
Born to family of Punjabi and Kashmiri descent, Hamid spent part of his childhood in the United States, where he stayed from the age of 3 to 9 while his father, a university professor, was enrolled in a PhD program at Stanford University. He then moved with his family back to Lahore, Pakistan, and attended the Lahore American School.
At the age of 18, Hamid returned to the United States to continue his education. He graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 1993 after completing an 127-page-long senior thesis, titled “Sustainable Power: Integrated Resource Planning in Pakistan”, under the supervision of Robert H. Williams. While he was a student at Princeton, Hamid studied under Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison. Hamid wrote the first draft of his first novel for a fiction workshop taught by Morrison. He returned to Pakistan after college to continue working on it.
Hamid then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1997. Finding corporate law boring, he repaid his student loans by working for several years as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company in New York City. He was allowed to take three months off each year to write, and he used this time to complete his first novel Moth Smoke.
Hamid moved to London in the summer of 2001, initially intending to stay only one year. Although he frequently returned to Pakistan to write, he continued to live in London for eight years, becoming a dual citizen of the United Kingdom in 2006. In 2004 he joined the brand consultancy Wolff Olins, working only three days a week so as to retain time to write. He later served as managing director of Wolff Olins’ London office, and in 2015 was appointed the firm’s first-ever Chief Storytelling Officer. …
His third novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, was excerpted by The New Yorker in their 24 September 2012 issue and by Granta in their Spring 2013 issue, and was released in March 2013 by Riverhead Books.
Hamid has also written on politics, art, literature, travel, and other topics, most recently on Pakistan’s internal division and extremism in an op-ed for the New York Times. His journalism, essays, and stories have appeared in TIME, The Guardian, Dawn, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, the Paris Review, and other publications. In 2013 he was named one of the world’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine.
Extremely privileged South Asians, such as Hamid and Suketu Mehta, author of This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto, seem to be the most hate-filled toward white people. They are close enough to whites to recognize the superiority of white accomplishment over that of South Asians and to resent it.
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