“Leave the World Behind” by Rumaan Alam

Genre: Literary Fictions           Leave The World Behind
Publisher:  Harper
Pub.Date: Oct. 6, 2020

How does a reviewer review this very interesting but strange story? We meet a white, middle-class family who lives in Brooklyn. They are renting an AirB&B in the Hamptons for what they hope will be a dream vacation. I start the novel wondering, is this a beach read? They experience that familiar wish of hoping that the vacation will never end.  As the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.” Halfway through their vacation, just when they get that feeling that the house is ‘their’ luxurious home, they hear a knock at the door. The intruders are an elderly black couple. They explain that this is their home.  They were staying in NYC but returned early since the city is having a major blackout.  They are hoping to live in their basement apartment until the renters’ lease ends. The white couple does not believe them and the wife is scared of them.  Okay, this must be a suspense story.  However, when the white wife thinks, “those people didn’t look like the sort to own such a beautiful house,” she reveals a glimpse of her white supremacy that she has no idea is a part of her.  Now my thoughts are that this will be a tale about confronting racism. Then the theme changes again.  Both couples begin to realize that the renters cannot go home until the lights are back on in the city. They recognize that they may be stuck living together for a while. Therefore, both couples are desperately trying to like one another, to gain trust, to become friends. You can feel the racial awkwardness between them. Now, the dialogue had me laughing out loud.  Okay, this is a comedy.   Sort of an edgy “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.”  

Although the author is very coy about mixing the genres there is one that finally emerges as dominant: the end of the world. The theme is actually an end of the world story.  This is a dystopian novel!  Here Alam is a master at building his character’s mild fears that grow into full-blown panic. There never was any cell phone reception at the Hampton house, but now they can’t get the TV or radio to work either.  They are desperate for some news that will explain what is going on.  When they can’t find an explanation their imaginations run wild. They become scared. The renting husband goes to the market to buy food, and to see if anyone knows anything.  However, there is no one in town other than a terrified woman who doesn’t speak English. Now in full panic mode, they begin to feel that this is a showdown between good and evil: very Stephen King-like. Both couples are not sure in which category they lay. Together they speculate that this is more than a blackout.  Is it a terrorist attack, or an alien invasion?  Are humanity’s centuries of abusing the planet finally catching up with us? Will we blow up in a million pieces?  I thought their panic jumped to terror too quickly, making it hard to believe the rest of the novel.  I am not sure if that was the author’s intention or not.  I am guessing that Alam was putting up a mirror to the face of America’s persistent insecurity regarding change. 

There is a similarity between this book and the 1959 movie, “On The Beach,” where after a global nuclear war all on earth know that they are about to die. However, oddly, this is a disaster novel without a disaster.  The best I can do is suggest that you think of the last episode of “The Sopranos.”  I was surprised to learn that “Leave the World Behind” was written before the COVID crisis.  Kind of weird how this weird novel taps brilliantly into the feeling of generalized panic that we have due to COVID, which pronounces our fears about climate change, financial inequality, government, and racism.   Overall, the author manages to bring humor into a story about shock and despair. This feat explains why the book won the 2020 National Book Award in fiction.  Going back to my genre confusion, I would say that this book is a literary apocalyptic novel that is confusing yet fascinating. If you don’t enjoy bizarre reads you might want to stay away from this one. However, I should also tell you that I am not a fan of bizarre but I still enjoyed this book.  Meaning you may want to give this novel a shot.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review

Find all my book reviews at:


I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review

Find all my book reviews at:


3 thoughts on ““Leave the World Behind” by Rumaan Alam

  1. Very interesting review, Martie. So many different themes. I haven’t seen the movie, On The Beach, but I read the novel by Nevil Shute and remember enjoying it. I remember the last scene in particular. Not fond of dystopian novels though, except for 1984 of course! Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.