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02Aug

The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid review – a hypnotic race fable

As white people suddenly awake in brown skin, they are forced to confront uncomfortable truths about power and identity

“One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.” So begins Mohsin Hamid’s inventive new novel, The Last White Man. Anders, as it turns out, is not an isolated case. More people in an unnamed town begin to change, including Oona, a yoga instructor and a friend of Anders. Violence inevitably erupts around them. White vigilante gangs terrorise the transformed, while some doggedly refuse to accept an end to whiteness.

At its heart, this is a novel about seeing, being seen, loss and letting go. The loss of privilege that comes from being perceived as white, and no longer being able to view the world from within whiteness, are some of the anxieties examined here.

They were converting us, and lowering us, and that was a sign, a sign that if we did not act in this moment there would be no more moments left and we would be gone.

They felt the dead daily, hourly, as they lived their lives, and their feeling of the dead was important to them, an important part of what made up their particular way of living, and not to be hidden from, for it could not be hidden from, it could not be hidden from at all.

She could shed her skin as a snake sheds its skin, not violently, not even coldly, but rather to abandon the confinement of the past, and, unfettered, again, to grow.

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