The Last White Man: a story of love, loss and identity crisis. Published in 2022 by Penguin Random House, The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid is his fifth novel.
Hamid is a much-acclaimed writer. His debut novel MothSmoke created a ripple across the world. Being a British-Pakistani novelist Hamid is well aware of the problems of diaspora and racism faced by immigrants.
The Last White Man is a complicated novel. Although the plot is simple, the symbolism behind the white people turning brown is interesting and unique. Anders the protagonist one day wakes up to find out he is no longer white but has turned dark brown.
The background to the symbolism behind how all of a sudden, all the white people turn brown is rooted in the events of 9/11. Brown is associated with militancy and extremism. Hamid stresses that something had changed that day. Even if he wasn’t white, his education and social status bestowed the benefits of being white on him.
Like in Hamid’s novel Exit West, magical realism manifests itself through doors that open and allow people to migrate so in The Last White Man, when Anders turns ‘undeniably brown’, the question of racism and discrimination comes into play through the magic that serves as a foundation to question and interrogate the notion of human imagination where brown is associated with a ‘murderous rage’. As Anders views his reflection in the mirror he wants to break the mirror. He cannot accept the fact that he is no longer white and hence is no longer eligible to the benefits of ‘white supremacy’.
The focus shifts to Anders and Oona’s relationship. Oona has recently lost her brother through an overdose. And her mother falls prey to online conspiracies supported by white supremacy. Anders and Oona both turn brown and find solace in each other. Oona paints herself with makeup much to her mother’s disgust. The primary thematic concern of the novel is the colour of the skin. How brown is inferior from all angles!
The symbolism of being brown in Hamid’s novel can be interpreted from many angles. Racism is a blatant theme that runs through the course of his writing. However, Hamid can also be referring to how the pandemic changed the life of everyone around. The privilege of the freedom to socialize, be carefree and spend without the fear of poverty was taken away. Everyone struggles and faces turbulent times, but it is how one copes with hardships is the message the novel is trying to send across.
The Last White Man is difficult to comprehend. Despite being written in simple words, the novel creates an aura that is hard to capture. Hamid is not verbose. His style of writing is precise and intense. He builds a scene/relationship in single powerful phrases. The novel is an intense read for the reader cannot afford to lose focus for even a split second lest he misses out on what is really going on!
In praise of The Last White Man:
“With this big hearted novel of ideas, Mohsin Hamid confronts challenging truths with insight, wisdom and above all else-limitless compassion.” (Tayari Jones)
To conclude, The Last White Man is a real literary piece. Hats off to the author for coming up with a great and different novel!