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Reviews of Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind

by Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam X
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2020, 256 pages

    Paperback:
    Nov 2021, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong.

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they've rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older couple—it's their house, and they've arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it's hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one other?

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam's third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.

1

WELL, THE SUN WAS SHINING. THEY FELT THAT BODED WELL—

people turn any old thing into an omen. It was all just to say no clouds were to be seen. The sun where the sun always was. The sun persistent and indifferent.

Roads merged into one another. The traffic congealed. Their gray car was a bell jar, a microclimate: air-conditioning, the funk of adolescence (sweat, feet, sebum), Amanda's French shampoo, the rustle of debris, for there always was that. The car was Clay's domain, and he was lax enough that it accrued the talus of oats from granola bars bought in bulk, the unexplained tube sock, a subscription insert from the New Yorker, a twisted tissue, ossified with snot, that wisp of white plastic peeled from the back of a Band-Aid who knew when. Kids were always needing a Band-Aid, pink skin splitting like summer fruit.

The sunlight on their arms was reassuring. The windows were tinted with a protectant to keep cancer at bay. There was news of an intensifying hurricane ...

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Reviews

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By positioning his characters on the periphery of disaster, Alam is able to tap into the paranoia, denial, speculation and even the enduring boredom of domesticity that remain when society is on the brink of crumbling. It also makes clear that the point of the novel is not to try and understand "what's going on," but rather to observe the various ways each character responds to fear itself. Leave the World Behind begs to be debated, making it an ideal book club pick you'll be urging everyone to read...continued

Full Review (744 words)

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(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

Vulture
[A] propulsive thriller…the book is both prescient and terrifying. Alam is an expert observer of the nuances of class and wealth, and the book is full of provocative, sensual detail, including one delicious page and a half where he lists every single thing his protagonist buys at the grocery store.

Refinery 29
Alam has not only brought his singular precision and subversive wit to his newest novel, but also has ventured into new, unhinged territory, where the contours of everything might be recognizable, but what's contained within is wholly deranged.

Washington Post
A white middle-class family rents an upscale home for a vacation. That’s one kind of novel. Then, an older Black couple arrives, saying they are the homeowners. Another kind of novel. Finally, the power goes out, and cellphone service disappears. Still another kind of novel. Alam doesn’t thicken the menacing plot; he changes it up so skillfully, you’ll lose your bearings just as the characters do.

New York Times
Alam's early tragicomedy-of-manners approach to race falters...Alam sticks with whom he seems most comfortable: the NPR-listening, Carroll Gardens-dwelling, New York Times-reading every-person. Still, if the first half can turn a mirror on you, the second half will shatter it. Leave the World Behind teeters on that seesaw-edge question in horror fiction: to reveal the monster or not? Ultimately it totters too far to one side, but there is still the primal nail-biting need to know what-the-hell-is-going-on.

Booklist (starred review)
The narrative’s increasing tempo expertly dives into subtle yet incisive intersections between class and race...Alam's novel lobs a series of unsettling questions: How will we react to the next nebulous horror? How will we parent? What will we define as home?

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers...Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[S]pectacular...This illuminating social novel offers piercing commentary on race, class and the luxurious mirage of safety, adding up to an all-too-plausible apocalyptic vision.

Vogue
Rarely have I encountered a book so cuttingly prescient about the current emotional atmosphere…Alam’s deployment of creepy, inexplicable detail is masterful….In some ways, the premise feels like the setup of any number of horror films, but Alam’s writing transcends that comparison, and the material with which he’s working is actually much more complex…This is a thrilling book—one that will speak to readers who have felt the terror of isolation in these recent, torturous months and one that will simultaneously, as great books do, lift them out of it. This book is going to be, as they say, big.

Esquire
Riveting and claustrophobic, Leave the World Behind invites us to sit with our discomfort and reflect on our own rushed judgments, delivering a dazzling and dark examination of family, race, class, and what matters most when the impossible becomes possible.

Library Journal
So clever and so subtle that it draws readers into a false sense of security and understanding…. Initially, the book seems to be about a modern marriage and family, priorities and choices, and how one measures success in the 21st century, and it is. But it is also much more… Perfectly timed for today’s uncertain world.

Author Blurb Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties
Leave the World Behind is so many things—funny, sharp, insightful about modernity and race and parenthood and home—but at its core it's a story of our shared apocalypse; a steady look at humanity in the moment it tumbles from a great height. I have not been this profoundly unnerved by a science fiction novel since Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

Author Blurb Jenny Offill, author of Weather
Leave The World Behind is that rarest of things, a beautifully written, emotionally resonant page-turner. Alam explores complex ideas about privilege and fate with miraculous wit and grace.

Author Blurb Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State
This novel left me tense, overwhelmed, and bristling with admiration. Rumaan Alam is a brilliant writer, a beautiful prose stylist with an uncanny talent for drawing characters—both their individual quirks and foibles, and the subtle gradations of class and circumstance. In this novel he combines those gifts with absolutely superb pacing and atmospheric control, balancing the comic and the tragic, the real and the surreal, the cynical and the empathetic, the individual and the collective. I'm blown away by this novel.

Author Blurb Megan Abbott, author of Give Me Your Hand
Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind is a canny Trojan horse of a novel, and also a Pandora's Box. Like the family at its center, we're seduced utterly by the bounty and insularity of its world, only to find ourselves, inch by inch, approaching a larger darkness lurking just beyond. With a potent Shirley Jackson energy, it is both eerily timeless and sharply prescient at once, and lingers long after its final page.

Reader Reviews

Lorri

Harrowing
This book! Alam has managed to write a perfect COVID-era book that is not about COVID, but the desire to keep what we love safe in times of terrible uncertainty and coming away with no good answers. Harrowing is the word I keep coming back to. Couldn...   Read More
CHRISL

I guess it scared me to death...
Really enjoyed reading the book after seeing it in the New York Review...it's already being made into a movie. However, I have to admit that for two nights after I read it, I had difficulty sleeping and I guess I can thank Rumann for that...and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

When Dystopia Meets Mystery

With his novel Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam explores how a group of isolated strangers react to an unspecified threat that is sweeping across New York. By hinting at the disaster's cause and effect, but depriving both his characters and his readers of concrete answers, he is able to tap into our inherent fear of the unknown.

Though wholly original in tone and execution, the book is not the first to dip into the dystopian genre without providing wider context, using an apocalyptic setup as a springboard to explore the human response to fear itself. Here are a few other novels that take this same core notion in entirely different but equally fascinating directions.

I Who Have Never Known Men coverI Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman
First ...

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Read-Alikes

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