Books: “The Last White Man” by Mohsin Hamid
In Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” Gregor Samsa woke up to find himself transformed into a large insect. In a similar fashion, Anders, the white protagonist of Mohsin Hamid’s “The Last White Man” wakes up one morning to find out his skin has turned brown.
Anders is a bit frightened. He looks in the mirror and sees someone he barely recognizes. He calls up his GF Oona who pays a visit and is equally weirded out by Anders’ new appearance. He calls in sick to the gym where he works; but after a few days off, he returns, only to draw hostile stares from everyone but the dark-skinned janitor.
Eventually a few more citizens in town turn brown and riots break out. Anders, fearful for his life, visits his dying father and borrows his gun to fend off the vigilantes.
Candidly, the “Twilight-Zone”-like concept behind TLWM is a lot more interesting than the execution. We never learn, for example, why skins are turning brown, or whether the author thinks this is a good or a bad thing. The ending, which will not be divulged here, is kind of a non-event. In short, sir, your lack of a dramatic arc is showing. There’s also the matter of his 300-word run-on sentences and loopy prose style.
Hamid who is a British Muslim says the idea for TLWM came to him after 9/11, when he felt his own “white privilege” disappeared. Good thinking, but truthfully we might have expected a better metamorphosis than this.