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Leave the World Behind (2020)

by Rumaan Alam

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,4689510,462 (3.47)100
A Recommended Book From Vogue * Vulture * Newsweek * NY Observer * The New York Post * Parade * The Millions * PopSugar * AARP * Publishers Weekly * Kirkus * Alma 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.… (more)
  1. 00
    A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet (sturlington)
    sturlington: Well-off people on vacation when disaster hits.
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» See also 100 mentions

English (92)  French (1)  All languages (93)
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
2.75

Pretentious writting? Sure. Insightful? Absolutely.

This reads almost like an expose of upper class people navigating the unknown incident trying to make sense of something under a narcissistic lens. Scrambling to make sense of things based on vague knowledge of how the world works while clinging to belongings, thier American dream, and a place like a liferaft. Passing through and by one another with the hesitation of people that don't know how to really cling or find comfort in things not tangible.

Still, I can't help but feel like I'm reading a piece being vocally applauded by a circle of students in some English composition class in an ivy covered building. Another piece of rich contemporary fiction just as far removed as its characters. ( )
  Jonez | Sep 23, 2022 |
Although I really enjoyed this book, I kinda wish I wouldn't have read it at this particular moment in time. But perhaps the uncomfortable timeliness is precisely why it worked so well. ( )
  SarahMac314 | Aug 12, 2022 |
This book is just the scariest. I don't know what else to say. I'm just going to sit here and wait for the end of the world now. ( )
  ZannaZori | Aug 3, 2022 |
I feel conflicted about this book, which is a kind of dystopian thriller (ish?) about the end of the world and how ordinary people on the margins of a catastrophe might respond. As many other reviews have noted, this is very timely, as it already feels like we're living in a small slide toward apocalypse, but mostly we just keep on living our lives. The book takes place over three days in a remote AirBnB rental where an upper middle class intellectual white family have their vacation interrupted by the upper-upper middle class Black owners of the rental home, fleeing from an unspecified event in Manhattan.

At first I didn't really like the writing style, but maybe it shifted or maybe I just got used to it. I ended up reading most of the book in one sitting, which I think helped build the tension and feeling of unease that Alam successfully created.

I respected Alam's refusal to tell us which of the possible disasters had actually occurred (actually, the effects he describes in increasing gouts of horror near the end of the book means that what happened was actually all of the things we fear, combined: fallout sickness/pandemic/toxic air, war/bombing/terrorism, floods/hurricanes/natural disasters, etc.). I was pretty sure about halfway through that we were not going to get an answer to "what happened?" and I think this was the right choice.

This strategy worked really well for Lydia Millet in "A Children's Bible," which was eerily similar in many ways. Where Millet fared better was in making the entire book feel timeless and far away, transmuting it into a parable. Instead, Alam mentions many things that tie the book too closely to a specific set of political actors and events from 2016-2019 (including mentions of Mike Pence, Putin, Kim, "election night," etc.). I think these references counteracted the intentional vagueness about what was really going on, and made it seem like there should be some concrete resolution tied to the "real" world. Somehow this small choice punctured the book's atmosphere just enough to make it less effective for me.

In the end, I think the book's multiplication of disasters functions most as an apotropaic device for the author. Alam is the parent of young children, and like many of us he can't really face the prospect of what their future lives might entail. So he packs every possible doomsday scenario into the book, a way of protecting them from the many things that might go wrong but probably won't--at least not all at once. ( )
  sansmerci | Jul 9, 2022 |
Probably not the best reading choice when already drowning in anxiety and dread but I couldn't put it down. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Jul 4, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
Leave the World Behind was written before the coronavirus crisis and yet it taps brilliantly into the feeling of generalised panic that has attached itself to the virus and seems to mingle fears about the climate, inequality, racism and our over-reliance on technology. As the reader moves through the book, a new voice interjects, an omniscient narrator who begins to allow us gradual access to the terrifying events taking place across America.
added by Lemeritus | editThe Guardian, Alex Preston (Nov 9, 2020)
 
In cutting detail, Alam moves between all the characters’ private thoughts on race, privilege, class and survival, revealing the lies they tell each other both to encourage a sense of calm and to protect their own insecurities.... There’s a dark comfort to engaging with these stories, a sense that living in uncertainty does not necessarily mean we are alone—and that knowing the future won’t help prevent it. I felt a particular isolation in the immediate aftermath of the storm; I feel it every day in the coronavirus era. Resolution will come later. Knowing that is enough for now. “Understanding came after the fact,” Alam writes of his characters. “You had to walk backward and try to make sense. That’s what people did, that’s how people learned.”
added by Lemeritus | editTIME, Annabel Gutterman (Oct 6, 2020)
 
Alam doesn’t dwell in the specificity of apocalypse, which has been the obsession of writers since the Flood. Instead he lobs a prescient accusation: Faced with the end of the world, you wouldn’t do a damn thing... “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. This propulsion, which drives much of the characters’ decisions, likewise drives the reader onward to a breathless conclusion that, if not altogether satisfying, is undeniably haunting.
added by Lemeritus | editThe New York Times, Afia Atakora (pay site) (Oct 6, 2020)
 
Where other practitioners of the genre revel in chaos—the coarse spectacle of society unravelling—Alam keeps close to his characters, who, like insects in acrylic, remain trapped in a state of suspended unease. This, he suggests, is the modern disaster—the precarity of American life, which leaves us unsure, always, if things can get worse.... In the book’s final pages, as the tension suddenly ratchets up, Amanda thinks to herself, “They were equipped to handle certain fears. This was something else. It was hard to remind yourself to be rational in a world where that seemed not to matter as much, but maybe it never had.”
added by Lemeritus | editNew Yorker, Hillary Kelly (Oct 5, 2020)
 
“Leave the World Behind” is the perfect title for a book that opens with the promise of utopia and travels as far from that dream as our worst fears might take us. It is the rarest of books: a genuine thriller, a brilliant distillation of our anxious age, and a work of high literary merit that deserves a place among the classics of dystopian literature.
added by Lemeritus | editWashington Post, Porter Shreve (pay site) (Oct 5, 2020)
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rumaan Alamprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wood, SaraCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Love goes on like birdsong,
As soon as possible after a bomb.

--Bill Callahan, "Angela"
Dedication
for Simon and for Xavier
First words
Well, the sun was shining.
Quotations
There was no real structure to prevent chaos, there was only a collective faith in order.
Sometimes distance showed a thing most clearly.
Amanda wasn’t magnanimous. The call was a relief. She wanted her colleagues to need her as God wants people to keep praying.
He sat on the front lawn in the shade of a tree and smoked. He should feel bad about this, but tobacco was the foundation of the nation. Smoking tethered you to history itself! It was a patriotic act, or once had been, anyway, like owning slaves or killing the Cherokee.
Clay was diligent but also (he knew it) a little lazy. He wanted to be asked to write for the New York Times Book Review but didn’t want to actually write anything.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A Recommended Book From Vogue * Vulture * Newsweek * NY Observer * The New York Post * Parade * The Millions * PopSugar * AARP * Publishers Weekly * Kirkus * Alma 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.

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Book description
Amanda and Clay head 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. The houseowners, Ruth and G. H., arrive in the middle of the night in a panic. They say a sudden blackout has swept the city: the TV and internet are down, and no cell phone service. Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a safe place for their families? And are they safe from one other? -- adapted from jacket
A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong. From the bestselling author of Rich and Pretty comes a suspenseful and provocative novel 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. 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? -- Provided by publisher.
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