Second Tuesday Book Club will meet in-person from 7 to 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12, in the program room at Schimelpfenig Library, for our discussion of Rumaan Alam’s recent novel Leave the World Behind. We will observe careful social distancing, with face coverings recommended. Please email Cathe Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-769-4200if you have questions or comments. See you at Schimelpfenig Library soon!
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
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. Roads merged into one another. The traffic congealed.
They rounded a bend and confronted a vehicle. It was more than a mile before it turned off toward its home homestead, and by that point Ariadne’s thread, or whatever bound them to the satellites overhead, had snapped. The GPS had no idea where they were. Left then right then again left then another mile or so, then left again, then two more miles, then right, not quite lost but not quite not lost.
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. But the owners of their house, Ruth and G.H., arrive in the middle of the night in a panic. They say a sudden blackout has swept the city: TV and internet are down, and there is no cell phone service. Will they ever learn what has happened in the city? Is their isolated vacation home a safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another?
One of the most-talked-about novels of fall 2020, and a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award, Leave the World Behind is now being adapted into a feature film for Netflix, starring Ethan Hawke, Julia Roberts, and Mahershala Ali.
Writing for NPR’s Fresh Air, Maureen Corrigan calls Leave the World Behind, “a slippery and duplicitous marvel of a novel. It simultaneously continues to be a thriller and a deft comedy of manners; but, very slowly, a different kind of story creeps in and takes over. Leave the World Behind is atmospheric and prescient: Its rhythms of comedy alternating with shock and despair mimic so much of the rhythms of life right now”, a “signature novel for a blasted” [pandemic] year.
In a review in Britain’s The Guardian, Alex Preston notes, “Leave the World Behind was written before the coronavirus crisis and yet it taps brilliantly into the feeling of generalized 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. This is an extraordinary book, at once smart, gripping and hallucinatory. When future generations want to know what it was like to live through the nightmare of 2020, this is the novel they’ll reach for.”
In the Los Angeles Times, Mary Ann Gwinn describes this book as “one of the saddest and most gripping books you will ever read … Every character is flawed, fragile and believable … As his characters veer from seizures of panic to intimations of loss, it becomes impossible to put the book down, to look away. This novel describes with documentary precision the profound irrationality of the way we live. What might have been a suspenseful and socially realistic piece of dystopian fiction has become something far more resonant, a vision of an entirely plausible future.”
Rumaan Alam was born in 1977 to parents who had come to the United States from Bangladesh. He grew up in Washington, D. C. and studied writing at Oberlin College. He is the author of two earlier novels, and has written nonfiction for the New York Times, The New Yorker, and and The New Republic. He lives in New York with his family.
His website is here. He also has Instagram and Twitter accounts.
In fall 2020, Alam discussed his novel on Zoom with staff at Washington’s independent bookstore Politics and Prose, at this link.