The Last White Man

Riverhead. Aug. 2022. 192p. ISBN 9780593538814. $26. F
Hamid’s latest is yet another imaginative pivot for the formally adventurous author, revisiting the magical realist texture of Exit West but with a more overtly parable quality. This short novel features Anders, who wakes up one day to find that his skin has suddenly turned dark. In the aftermath of this surreal upset to his life, he reconnects with old friend Oona, and they embark on a new relationship as the world around them continues to change. Occupying a liminal space recalling Kafka’s The Metamorphosis or José Saramago’s Blindness, but with the more relaxed feel of a fairy tale, the narrative proves to be both markedly intelligent and surprisingly empathetic. In taking on the inherently dehumanizing effects of race on the individual and showing how so many must unmake or unknow their identities as their skin darkens—and thus evolve toward a more loving humanity as they see the world anew—Hamid bespeaks compassion rather than anger or malignant consequence, eschewing grand worldbuilding for a deeply intimate and remarkably gentle tale. A certain slightness to the text keeps it from reaching the brilliant heights of Exit West, but Hamid maximizes his spartan framework emotionally and discursively, delivering a novel that lingers and expands long after its final, delicate pages.
VERDICT A provocative and welcomingly unpredictable work, taking readers to deeply humane places and through moving considerations that similar works rarely visit.
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