The JRB presents an excerpt from Mohsin Hamid‘s new novel The Last White Man.
The Last White Man
Read the excerpt:
The first bitterly cold day of the year arrived, and the deciduous trees were already nearly naked, and that moonless night, alone at home, Anders thought he could feel the ancient horrors awakening, could feel the almost forgotten savagery upon which his town was founded, all of it gathering outdoors, pulling on his windows with the breeze.
He was envious of the militants, just then, in a way, and he wondered, if they had been willing to accept him, whether he would have chosen to be one of them, and part of him suspected it was not entirely impossible that he might have chosen to, eventually, and if he had still been white maybe he would have been out there, blowing pale breath into his hands, secure in his righteousness, or at least safe from their righteousness, but as it was, the choice was not open to him, and he was here, less chilly but more afraid.
The gym had been damaged by fire, not heavily, just a bit, and like most business owners Anders’s boss had decided to shut down for a while, and Anders was not let go, but he was not exactly employed either, not in the sense of currently getting paid, and so he had to make do with his savings and what his father had given him, and as he counted his cash and tallied up his supplies that night, he thought suddenly of the cleaning guy, and whether he should call him, and see if he was safe, or whether that was crazy, not Anders’s place, but Anders did not have his number, and in any case he realized, surprised, that he did not even know his last name.
Oona messaged, and they spoke until late, and after that Anders wandered online, and in town it seemed people were continuing to change, white people becoming dark, and though the riots had subsided the militants were growing ever more aggressive, and bodies were turning up in fields, commentators disagreeing and arguing as to the exact count, was it two this time or three or six, but no one saying there were none, and people buried them, and the bodies were rumored to be dark, but not exclusively dark, and among the dark ones some who had not always been so.
Anders no longer strayed far from his rifle. He did not venture out, and he slept with it on the floor next to his bed, and he cooked with it propped up against the wall between his refrigerator and a cupboard, and for a while he took it with him to the bathroom, and once this came to seem excessive to him, he simply placed it on the coffee table in front of his sofa, where he could see it, so even then, with the bathroom door open, it was present.
The rifle, though it was meant to make Anders feel secure, also murmured to Anders a quiet but insistent question, which was how much did he want to live, and he could not deny in the interminable afternoons and in the late tree-swaying nights hearing the rifle’s question, and he knew that it would be straightforward to end himself, and maybe that was the point, the point of it was to break him, to break all of them, all of us, yes us, how strange to be forced into such an us, and Anders wondered what was happening to other dark people, and how they were coping, and whether they were killing themselves, fast with guns and slow with drinks and pipes and pills, or hanging on, and he did not consider himself a particularly violent man, nor well suited to these times, and his mother was gone, and his father would soon be too, and with them the people he would betray most by leaving, and so if he stayed it would not be for them, need not be for them, but for himself, and yet each day he did stay, bored and tense, true, but he stayed, and he discovered thereby how badly he wanted to stay, that the impulse to live was in him stronger than he might have imagined, undiminished by his bleak circumstances, and by the odd wrapper he was wrapped in, and maybe it was stubbornness, or selfishness, or hope, or fear, and maybe it was desire, the desire to continue to be Anders, or to be with Oona, especially to be with Oona, but whatever it was, it was there, fierce, and so he dressed as warmly as he could, and kept himself fed, and he read and he exercised and waited in his brown skin through those solitary days for what would come next.
- Mohsin Hamid is the author of five novels—The Last White Man, Exit West, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and Moth Smoke—and a book of essays, Discontent and Its Civilisations. His writing has been translated into forty languages, featured on bestseller lists, and adapted for the cinema. Born in Lahore, he has spent about half his life there and much of the rest in London, New York, and California.
From the internationally bestselling author of Exit West, a story of love, loss, and rediscovery in a time of unsettling change
One morning, Anders wakes to find that his skin has turned dark, his reflection a stranger to him. At first he tells only Oona, an old friend, newly a lover. Soon, reports of similar occurrences surface across the land. Some see in the transformations the long-dreaded overturning of an established order, to be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders’s father and Oona’s mother, a sense of profound loss wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance to see one another, face to face, anew.