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The Last White Man - Mohsin Hamid

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The Last White Man is a novella set in a land where the majority white population start to turn brown, one by one. 


The scenario is illustrated through following Anders and his partner Oona - both originally white. Anders is a man's man who likes to gym. He is aware that there are brown people in the world including the man who cleans the gym, but Anders' world is white. So it is problematic for him when he wakes up one morning to find he is brown. 


The sections that follow set out a series of paradigms as the population shifts from a white society to a brown one. At first, the few newly brown people try to find ways to distinguish themselves as formerly white - in case people should mistake them as being genuinely brown. But their peers reject them and they come to accept their lesser status. Anders, for example, decides he might try to reach out to the gym cleaner to establish a friendship of equals, although he quickly decides they are not equal despite their common skin colour. 


Then as more people become brown, those who remain white are lauded. As it becomes clear that everyone is turning brown, they are nobly resisting the inevitable. They are held to be virtuous, even though the pigmentation seems to be arbitrary. 


Finally, as the majority of society becomes brown there is a flip and the society no longer accepts skin colour as having meaning. 


The novella is driven by ideas rather than plot, and the ideas do feel a little like essays. They are told in a strange style that reads almost as though it was written in another language and translated on the cheap. It is rather hypnotic. Perhaps the sense of translation is also brought about by the ambiguity of location. The names seem to be drawn from across northern Europe and while this was probably done to avoid tying it to a specific place or time, it was rather distracting as the reader tried to ground it in a real location. 


This is a short work offering plenty to think about, but lovers of plot driven novels will find it lacking and probably somewhat contrived as a vehicle for illustrating the various political ideas. 



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