Leave the World Behind: A Novel

by Rumaan Alam (Autor)

Hardcover, 2020

Status

Available

Publication

Ecco (2020), 256 pages

Description

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)

Media reviews

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
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the book, a new voice interjects, an omniscient narrator who begins to allow us gradual access to the terrifying events taking place across America.
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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
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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.”
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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
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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.
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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
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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.”
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“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
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deserves a place among the classics of dystopian literature.
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Like Stephen King’s 1980 novella The Mist, Leave the World Behind expertly illustrates the horror of the unknown, the almost painful humanity we feel when facing down the end and, of course, human nature under duress. During an era of plague, racism, hatred, and division, this tale of a vacation
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gone awry is terrifyingly prescient.
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The omniscient narrator occasionally zooms out to provide snapshots of the wider chaotic world that are effective in their brevity. Though information is scarce, the signs of impending collapse—ecological and geopolitical—have been glaringly visible to the characters all along: “No one could
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plead ignorance that was not willful.” 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.
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As they search for answers and adjust to what increasingly appears to be a confusing new normal, the two families—one Black, one White; one older, one younger; one rich, one middle-class—are compelled to find community amid calamity, to come together to support each other and survive. As he
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did in his previous novels, Rich and Pretty (2016) and That Kind of Mother (2018), Alam shows an impressive facility for getting into his characters’ heads and an enviable empathy for their moral shortcomings, emotional limitations, and failures of imagination. The result is a riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers—disappointing those who crave them even as it fittingly reflects our time. Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member bragan
A couple and their two teenage children are taking a vacation, a pleasant getaway from their home in NYC spent in a very nice house they've rented for a few days, in a place far enough out in the country that they can't even get decent cell phone service. They do get just enough signal, though, to
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catch a glimpse of some kind of news about a big blackout on much of the east coast. And then the TV and the internet go out. And the people who own the house, who also happened to be out of the city for the day, stop by and want to stay, because something tells them maybe New York City isn't where they want to be right now.

But, really, everything's fine. Everything is absolutely fine. How can everything possibly not be fine, when you're on vacation?

Hooooo boy.

For most of this novel, I kept thinking that I didn't like it very much, that the writing just wasn't working for me. Such a pity, I thought to myself, because it has a lot going for it, otherwise. The author clearly does have some real talent, and the characters are very believable, the details of their lives and attitudes almost painfully recognizable at times. There's some good suspense, and some complicated, insightful thematic stuff. But, oh, I told myself, I just can't get along with the writing style at all. All that head-hopping (a particular pet peeve of mine, and something I believe very few authors can get away with). That detached narrative voice that keeps flat-out telling us things about the characters instead of showing us through words and actions (even if it doesn't feel amateurish the way that sort of thing usually does). The places where the sentences start to seem like they've maybe been polished one too many times, to the point where they've become slightly unnatural. The "little did they know"-type moments that start to pop up here and there, which surely must be just a little too coy, a little too narratively convenient. Yes, I decided, all of that is just too much of a problem for me. A pity, but that's obviously the reason I keep not wanting to pick this back up after I've put it down, the reason I'm not fully sinking into the story, the reason I feel sort of stressed out and annoyed as I read.

Yeah, well, you know what? Most of that is me being almost as much in denial as some of the characters. Because this is not a badly written book, or even a book whose writing is so much not to my taste that it just kind of ruins everything for me. I'm still not a fan of this particular POV structure, but Alam does actually do some good stuff with it, and those moments of dramatic irony that I kept wanting to think of as coy and convenient ultimately turn out to be nothing short of devastating.

No, it took me until very near the end to fully admit it to myself, but the truth is, the reason I kept fighting getting too much into this novel and telling myself it wasn't working is because it was just absolutely, positively not the book I should have been reading in the first week of 2021. Which is to say, a novel that, among other things, plays on the anxious possibility that if you take your eyes off the news for one moment something terrible will happen while you're not looking (something that did, in fact, happen for me on the same day I started reading this), a novel that reminds you, slowly but insistently, that the lives and the systems that we take for granted are in fact vulnerable and unstable and maintained largely by fragile consensus

Yeah. Basically, it stirred up every single horrible, anxious, frightened thing that's sitting in my brain right now, and it seems I am not quite emotionally equipped to confront in fiction what I'm already currently having a hard time handling in reality. And yet, once I finally recognized this fact, once I gave up fighting against it and just let myself go where it wanted to take me... Well, the result was very powerful. I may have let out a very long, ragged breath at the end. I guess you do have to count that as a significant success.

I still really, really wish I'd read it some other week, though. Or some other year. Or maybe in some other timeline.

Rating: 4.5/5, entirely despite myself. Damn you, Rumaan Alam.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
There’s something about a book that makes you look up the definition of three words before page 12--not that I don’t enjoy expanding my vocabulary (and I will definitely spend the next few months waiting to work dishabille into a conversation), but it makes me wonder what the author is trying
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to hide. Rumaan Alam’s genre-bending new novel, Leave the World Behind, is definitely trying to do something interesting, but how do you gauge success when the goal is unclear? The book begins with yuppie Brooklynites Clay and Amanda escaping to Long Island with their two children for a summer vacation at a rental house. Through a third-person omniscient voice, Alam skims from character to character which adds to the feeling of disorientation as strange things begin to happen. What exactly is happening is hard to find out at their isolated vacation home, and no easier for the reader as Alam only drops bits of information. Part literary fiction, part sci-fi with a smidge of social justice and tinged with dystopian themes, Leave the World Behind left me confused. Alam certainly knows how to write rich characters and the tension he brings as the story ramps up is palpable, but there was not quite enough meat on this literary bone for me. Readers who enjoy well-written, suspenseful family drama may enjoy Leave the World Behind, but don’t expect any type of resolution or even an aha moment at the end.
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LibraryThing member Maydacat
Maybe I’m missing a deeper meaning here, but I found this book disappointing in so many ways. The premise sounded intriguing, but I was half way through the book, still looking for the intrigue. My guess is the author was trying to build suspense, thus the writing was vague and mysterious, and I
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wondered what was going on and when was something going to happen. Then I finished the book, and I still wondered, what was going on and what in the world happened. Too many unanswered questions for my taste, and way too much unnecessary crudeness. I didn’t think the characters were well developed, and the plot just didn’t capture my interest. It does seem that many people enjoyed it - good for them! - but it’s just not my cup of tea.
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LibraryThing member Perednia
Another end-of-the-world novel from 2020. There are some good ideas and good writing, particularly in the passages about what will or will not happen. But the novel is unfocused, especially since it is a short work, and seemed to be one kind of story before it turned into another. This is the kind
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of book that will have to sit on the back of the stove for a few days while the stew of its intent and purposes slowly cook.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
A Brooklyn family finds the perfect holiday rental on Long Island. It's not near the beach, but it's beautifully appointed, has a pool and they can afford it. They settle in for their summer holiday, playing in the pool, relaxing in the jacuzzi, taking a day trip to the beach and enjoying
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themselves. Then things begin to happen. Someone knocks on the door. The daughter sees something extraordinary in the woods.

This is the kind of novel that you don't want to know too much about before you read. It depends on atmosphere and the reader's imagination for it's effectiveness and it ends at exactly the right point. This is also a novel where the characters remain somewhat unnuanced. I can see this being easily adapted for the screen because the novel doesn't depend on the interior lives of the characters, or more precisely, the characters outward appearances perfectly coincide with their thoughts and reactions. I did enjoy this novel. It was well-paced and unsettling.
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
Knowing that this was an apocalyptic type novel I wasn't sure if it would be my bag, but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it.

What I liked most was that Alam didn't fall into the usual plot stereotype of this type of book. It's not like McCarthy's The Road, focusing on the fallout of an apocalypse for
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the few remaining survivors. Instead it focuses on the first hours of something major happening (we never find out what), when the characters, who are staying in a relatively remote area, get the sense that something's happened as TV and mobile phones stop working, and animals start behaving in strange ways, but they don't know what or how cataclysmic it is.

It feels believable, and for that reason successfully edgy and eerie, particularly in this COVID era where the end of the world now feels depressingly possible rather than the stuff of fictional fodder.

The setting for the book is a family in an upmarket holiday rental who are forced to accommodate some unexpected and unwelcome visitors as the situation starts to unfold. It works brilliantly; the polite, awkward tension between the two families as they're thrown together in the situation, neither wanting to be with the other, no one knowing what is happening, how serious the situation is and whether it's safe to leave the social discomfort of the house. Rumaan Alam could have easily got carried away with the plot and taken it into full apocalyptic territory, but he controls it and keeps it tightly reined in to the hinterland of the event.

4 stars (possibly a bit more) - clever writing that haves you questioning throughout - 'what would I do?'
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LibraryThing member Jinjer
JFC!!!! This book had me on the edge of my seat! Best mail biter since Bird Box. Some people complained about the nonstop inner thoughts and dialogue of the characters but for me that helped make it even more suspenseful. I liked all the crazy tangents their minds wandered off to.

Best book of the
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year so far!
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LibraryThing member sturlington
In this story, a rather ordinary family of middle-class white New Yorkers head out to the Hamptons for a late-summer vacation in a rented AirBnB, a lovely and well-appointed house that isn't on the ocean but does have a pool. They spend a couple of days there doing vacation things, spending a lot
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of money on extravagant and impractical food (the trip to the grocery store is described in much detail), and then there is a knock on the door late at night. An older Black couple is standing on the doorstep. They say they own the house and something bad has happened in New York, so they want to stay.

At first, this story, and this family, were annoying me. The family is so bland, so white-bread, that they didn't seem to be characters so much as caricatures. But when the Black couple shows up, they are completely ordinary as well, boring even. It's not a mystery whether they are truly the house's owners; the omniscient narrator lets us know fairly quickly that they are. The mystery is what is happening out in the world, and how will these people handle it?

It gradually dawned on me that all of these people were so ordinary and indistinguishable because they are meant to be anybody, and everybody. This is, I think, a story that pretty realistically depicts what it might be like if an unthinkable disaster were unfolding and you really had no idea what was going on or what to do. The narrator is godlike in knowing everything that is happening and will happen, and sometimes doles out little bits of information so we, the readers, know slightly more than the characters. But the questions of interest are: What would you do if you had no idea what to do? Would you come together? Or lock the doors? Much has been made of the race-relations aspect of the story, and the white couple are pretty typical in that they hold some fairly stereotypical views of Black and Hispanic people, but I don't think that's the point. I think the point is that these are ordinary people, the world may be ending, and what are they going to do? Anything besides getting drunk?

I don't think it's any accident that climate change is mentioned so frequently. The disaster unfolding, whatever it is, happens more quickly, but there is a point being made: that the world is already ending, and collectively, we're not doing much about it. However, it is interesting to me that there is one character who recognizes what is happening and knows what to do--who that character turns out to be. So although when the book started, it had me rolling my eyes at this Wonderbread family, by the end, it had me thinking about some very interesting questions. Overall, a win.
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LibraryThing member agjuba
"End-of-the-world-as-we-know-it" books intrigue me, so I started this one eagerly. Unfortunately, my expectations were too high. I don't mind flawed characters, but I do need for the author to like his characters or find something to respect in them, and Alam seemed to feel neither affection or
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even grudging admiration for anyone in the book.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
A bit like Alas, Babylon, while examining race and social standings in the Hamptons. I am glad I teach ACT vocabulary, so I understood the descriptions. It's a bit haunting and doesn't wrap up the end in a perfect bow. I loved it!
LibraryThing member ShannonRose4

Chilling in a subtle suspenseful way that reminds me of Donna Tartt.
LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
The following review contains a lot of plot summary. I found this book to be illogical, but found I couldn't explain it without the detailed plot review. I know a lot of people have liked it, even when recognizing that it's vague and doesn't make sense. I did not like it, but don't let that put you
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off reading it if it sounds interesting to you. I just don't recommend it.

Amanda and Clay, a yuppie couple from NYC and their 2 teens have rented a vacation house on the eastern edge of Long Island. The first few days are idyllic--playing in the pool, a beach day, indulging in luxury items at the grocery store. Then late one evening there's a knock at the door, and they panic--should they answer? Is there a baseball bat they could brandish? This seemed a bit much for me, but their indecision went on several pages before they finally opened the door to find--

G.H. and Ruth, an older couple who claim to be the owners of the house. They relate they had been driving home from a concert (in NYC) when it looked like the lights went out, so, instead of going home to their apartment (and risking the elevator being out of service), they drive out to their vacation home (a several hours drive in RL). Although, G.H. had been noticing some strange things in the stock market, so he thinks something bad may be about to happen.

The tvs have gone out, but the house still has electricity, so the next day Clay decides to drive into town to see if there's any news. He's driven into town before to get groceries with no problem. But this time, he gets in the car and drives around and around in circles, hopelessly lost; he can't find his way to town, and he can't even find his way back to the house for a long while.

Then all sort of strange things start happening: a flock of flamingos lands in the pool, there's a loud unexplained noise (a sonic boom?), the teenage son vomits and all his teeth fall out. When this latter event happens, G.H. and Clay decide to take the son to the ER, only on the way there, they decide to go to the contractor who had renovated G.H.'s house. They just do, don't ask why. In the meantime, Amanda and Ruth are left back at the house looking for the teenage daughter who has disappeared. Inexplicably the daughter felt compelled to wander to a neighbors house, which is empty (there is a brief and jarring interlude introducing the neighbor and why he's not there). So the daughter breaks in and decides to watch videos.

And then the book ends. The bulk of the book seems to be trying to build a sense of forboding (which I guess it does), but it is so illogical and the characters are so not acting like real people that it's not a story I could believe in or a fear I could feel. It's possible that whatever caused the possible blackout (just in NYC or worldwide? why was the house spared?) and the flamingos landing in the pool and the loud noises and the teeth falling out and so on, has also caused the humans in this story to act like zombies (except for not craving human flesh). I dunno--the author did not make me feel like any of this was really happening, or to care about any of the characters.

I will note that one of the reviews on Amazon noted that the book had great reviews from a lot of respected authors, and asked, What Kool Aid were they drinking?

Not recommended.

1 1/2 stars
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LibraryThing member KarenHerndon
I hated this book!
It was the depressing story I hated.
The writing was good enough but the story, in my opinion, left a lot to be desired.
I’d heard a review on the radio that this book was up for some award. They hyped the story mostly about two families. One a young one (white) with children who
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had rented a home for a week vacation and the other (black) an older couple who apparently (? In white families eyes) own the house.
There has been a blackout in New York where black family lives and they’ve come to see if they can stay in their house that they’ve rented out to younger couple, it has a mother-in-law’s suite in the basement). Communications are all down so there is no way to variety just who black couple are or if they actually own the home.
This is how the radio presented the book but really, this is not the crutch of it in my opinion.
Again, I really hated this book!
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
On the second night of their vacation in the Hamptons, Amanda and Clay answer the door of their Airbnb rental to a couple claiming to be the owners of the house. Apparently, there's been a major blackout in New York City and they didn't know where else to go. The mystery, the creep factor, has
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little to do with the question of whether these people are who they say are. It becomes clear fairly quickly that they are telling the truth and that there has been a major event of some kind, but with cell phones, landlines, internet, and television all out, no-one knows any details. Cue the dramatic music.

This book was very suspenseful, due to two things: First, the characters' lack of knowledge. The reader, through the omniscient narrator, knows quite a bit more than the character do about what's going on. Not that it helps. Second, this book is deeply introspective. Alam slides seamlessly from the perspective of one character another, and we are privy to each one's sense of insecurity that they aren't responding "well" to the crisis. And it turns out that the inside of peoples' heads during a mysterious calamity is a deeply creepy place.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.
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LibraryThing member SignoraEdie
I read the whole thing despite being tempted to quit throughout. I just didn't get it!
LibraryThing member stephkaye
This was perhaps not the best book to read on election night. It is suspenseful and anxiety producing. However, these traits also made it very compelling, and I finished it almost in one sitting.
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
This novel was quite the surprise! I suspected before cracking the spine that big events were at the heart of this novel's impetus, but I wasn't quite imagining the apocalyptic level it attains. What's best about this story is the creeping uneasiness of it. Increasingly, it becomes more and more
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clear that everything is at stake (or perhaps already lost).

This is such a riveting and intelligent literary thriller, complete with scenes that are absolutely heartbreaking. Yet I appreciate that the author never tries too hard to force the reader's feelings. This isn't the kind of story that provides all the answers, but if that's something that doesn't bother you, I highly recommend this one.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
Reading Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam during an ongoing pandemic may not seem like a good idea. After all, a story about what looks like a catastrophic event as experienced by two families with no access to the news is a little too on-the-nose considering current events. For those brave
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enough to crack open its pages, however, what you will find is a mesmerizing story of opposites forced into cooperation and brutal self-reflection that does as much to help you forget reality as it does make you grateful that we are only experiencing a pandemic.

Leave the World Behind is chilling on so many levels – the lack of news, the isolation, the panic. What will strike readers the most, however, is the self-reflection required of each of the characters as they strive to work together all while trying to overcome their inherent biases. After all, the two families are as opposite as can be. Black versus white. Rich versus middle class. Retired versus vacationers. Old versus young. A reliance on wifi and electronics versus those who view such gadgets as unnecessary. Plus one family has the experiences that come with living a full and long life while the other family is still in the throes of puberty, school, and everything else that comes with raising a family.

Not every character is as successful at addressing their inner biases as others. In fact, much of what makes Leave the World Behind so brilliant is the fact that the characters acknowledge their racism and other biases while also understanding that they shouldn’t have those feelings if they want to consider themselves truly enlightened. It makes for some very uncomfortable reading at times, which, I believe, is Mr. Alam’s point. While showing the characters’ weaknesses, he forces readers to confirm their own.

The unknown event in New York is very much a secondary character in its own right, even though we never find out what exactly happened. Mr. Alam draws our attention to certain seemingly random events happening in nature as well as mentioning various long-term effects of that event so that you understand just how catastrophic, almost apocalyptic, it was. As a result, the characters’ state of uncertainty and eventual panic becomes that much more palpable because you understand the gravity of the situation more than they do.

Ultimately, Leave the World Behind is a rather intense apocalyptic novel that fits well into 2020. Its deep dive into the inherent racism and other biases we each internally carry is spot on for this year’s ongoing fight against systemic racism. Plus, its unknown catastrophe is an intriguing alternative to our current, still-relatively-unknown pandemic. Make no mistake, Leave the World Behind is going to be among many a Best of 2020 list.
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LibraryThing member tibobi
The Short of It:

This book left me unsettled and anxious but the story will stay with me for a very long time.

The Rest of It:

Amanda and Clay leave the city to rent a luxurious vacation home in Long Island. A week away with their two teenagers, simple meals, days spent swimming and lounging, is just
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what they need. An escape from city life sounds so perfect, even if only for a week.

The home is beautiful and private and as they fill the fridge with their own groceries and begin to fill the space with their own belongings, they begin to unwind and enjoy this brief respite. But then, they hear voices and shortly thereafter, there is a knock at the door. Who could be knocking at this late hour? Should they open it? Is it safe?

Ruth and G.H. Washington are at the door. They explain that something has happened in the city, a power outage and that they did what they felt was right, headed to their home in Long Island, yes the home Amanda and Clay are renting. You see, Ruth and G.H. are the owners.

Well folks, this presents all kinds of problems. It’s their home, so how can Amanda and Clay deny them access to their own home? Plus, Ruth and G.H. are older and it’s cold outside and a storm is on its way. How can they not let them in? But Amanda is concerned for their safety. Their kids are asleep and these people are strangers.

I want to be careful what I say here as I don’t want to give anything away but these two couples are put into a very difficult spot and they are tested in many ways. Their trust for one another, their lack of communication or real news (satellite, Wi-Fi and cell service is down), and yet their power remains. What has happened in the city? And then, something happens that forces them to consider that whatever has happened, is much bigger than a power outage.

Reading this book was stressful! There is an underlying current that runs through the book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. You can’t relax, yet you can’t put it down. You spend time with these people and get to know all their insecurities, their fears and in less than three hundred pages, a good sense for what makes them tick. As I was reading, I kept thinking about what I would do in that situation. When I turned the last page, I was at a loss for words. I had to buzz a friend who read it so we could discuss. It’s that kind of book. Plus, it’s a genre bender. Could be classified many different ways.

I will warn you, it’s gotten mixed reviews. Many readers hated it. Perhaps for the feeling it gave them or that the story is a little ambiguous. I, however, LOVED it. But I don’t rate books the same way most people do. I rate often for the experience. Did it take me away from my daily concerns? Yes. Was I riveted? Yes. Did I appreciate how the author told the story? Yes. So for me, it was a solid five stars and will be on my list of faves at the end of the year.

For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter.
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LibraryThing member ShannonRose4

Chilling in a subtle suspenseful way that reminds me of Donna Tartt.
LibraryThing member Lemeritus
Some readers complain of coyness, feel cheated. But that is precisely the point of this beautifully written book. Something happened. But, like the characters, we can't know what we don't know. "You never know when a time is the last time, because if you did you could never go on with life." And
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"Whatever they thought they’d understood was not wrong but irrelevant."
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LibraryThing member KateHonig
An intimate look at what happens to those in the middle of a disaster if they don't know what has happened and can't predict what happens next.

Initially, I didn't think I was going to like this book, but once I got used to the intimate and often off-putting way the characters think, I got
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completely sucked in. This story was atmospheric and tense and allowed all of the main characters to be their messy and true selves. I found myself unable to put this book down and really wanted to know what would happen next when it ended.
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LibraryThing member Tytania
I saw this book well described as "a disaster novel without the disaster." All that the characters know for sure about the disaster is that power went out on the East Coast. It becomes eerier than that, but I won't give away any spoilers.

The plot is simple. A Brooklyn family of four rents an
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Airbnb out near the Hamptons on Long Island. The owners of the house show up one night just a few days into their stay. The owners had been out & about in NYC when, they report, the power went out. (The power remains inexplicably still on out on eastern Long Island.) But it didn't seem like a normal blackout - plus, their apartment in the city was too many flights up to want to climb with the elevators not working - so they drove out to Long Island to wait things out at their summer home. But things are weird. They feel weird. The Airbnb guests feel weird. And not just the awkwardness of all having to share quarters with strangers; it's all just... weird.

I found it enthralling and scary. It's just about how these different people respond to crisis. And the scary part was reading it during this little world crisis of our own - not knowing what chapter we are currently in, out of how many chapters, of THAT crisis.

First stirring quote: "Waist-deep water was lapping against Venetian marble, and tourists were smiling & taking snapshots. It was like some tacit agreement: everyone had ceded to things just falling apart." Makes me feel like the way most of this country seems to just be shrugging their shoulders at 300,000 dead - crisis came, and we all just acted like such a bunch of surrender-monkeys, we would put France to shame.

Clay & Amanda, the renters, fantasize about what they will do when (they imagine) shortly they will pack up and head on home to Brooklyn... Clay wants to stop in a diner. "Chrome. Jukeboxes. Corned beef hash." Amanda wants to go to an old-fashioned sit-down Chinese restaurant. "The only things a person ever wanted were food and home." Preach!

"Lemmings were not suicidal; they were driven to migrate and overconfident about their ability. The leader of the pack was not to blame. They all plunged into the sea, thinking it easy to traverse as a puddle; so human an instinct in a bunch of rodents."

The narrator is omniscient. The perspective of each character in turn is assumed. The narrator also knows exactly what is going on, but is coy about sharing it. You may be more clear than I about exactly what happened and is going to happen, but I felt I might have blinked and missed a thing or two.
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LibraryThing member AAAO
Started very strong but soon got self-satisfied. Hypersexualized. Vague. The more you read, the slower it gets…. it’s trying too hard from a writer talented enough to offer better, much better. Good writing, unsatisfactory nonetheless.
LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam, author; Marin Ireland, narrator
This novel tells about an event that takes place at a time in the near future. In the span of about two days, life changes completely. Because it is in the realm of possibility, it is particularly relevant, especially today. We are
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in the middle of a pandemic, our country is suffering through a period of political upheaval with violence, there is an atmosphere of distrust everywhere, and nature seems to be running amok.
Ruth and George H. Washington, an affluent couple, are at a concert in New York City. On their way home to their apartment, they learn that there is a blackout in the Northeast. The Emergency Broadcast System sends Ruth’s phone a text, which is odd. Then, odder still, all communication stops. Fearful, of what is to come, they decide not to walk up the 14 flights to their apartment, and instead, they drive out to Long Island to their very isolated, vacation home. There is one complication, however. They have rented it out to a family for their vacation.
Amanda and Clay are there with their two children, Rose, 13, and Archie, 16. They have retired early and are unaware that the TV is no longer broadcasting. When George and Ruth knock on the door, it is quite late, and they rouse the couple from their bed, frightening them. They ask to stay in the in-law suite in the basement, built for Ruth’s mother, but the reaction from Amanda and Clay is mixed. Amanda is uncomfortable with the idea, as she wonders who these people really are and what their motive could be. Do they want to kill them, rob them? Clay is calmer, and he is enamored with the owner’s offer of money. He is more trusting. They soon become aware of the total communication shutdown.
The situation is complicated because the owners are black and the renters are white. They each bring their own personalities to the table. Racism does not loom large, but it is implied for the reader to think about, especially when Amanda suggests to Clay that they are more likely to be the maid and the caretaker, not the owners. Other things are implied as well, like their political preferences when Rachel Maddow is mentioned or the effects of environmental abuse are questioned or when it is implied that the Republicans are rich. In addition, the black couple is in a far better position regarding finances and education, than the couple they have rented to, so it is an obvious effort to portray the situation in a particular way for the reader to digest. They all do get along, and race does not become a problem, but money is often the motivator for certain reactions.
When it becomes clear that this is no ordinary blackout, as illness begins to affect some of them, and as animals begin to flee, fear begins to mount. No way of communicating returns, although the vacation home still has electric power for some reason. There is no information forthcoming to help them navigate the problem and to learn about what has happened. Will the two families stay together? Will one have to leave? Is it safe to leave? People begin to hunker down and to make plans to protect themselves. Do they need weapons? Will they embrace others and include them in their plans as survival becomes a major concern? What will happen if the electricity fails, if there is no water, if stores do not open and there is no food? Is there any medical facility functioning? Is it safe to venture out?
Because there is a loud noise that causes them discomfort, without any known reason, and because some fall ill or suffer consequences from the ear-splitting noise, it reminded me of the noise in Cuba that caused an unknown illness in some diplomats. Then one thinks, with the current COVID pandemic, could it be a plague or biological or chemical warfare? In addition, we are all familiar with the danger of blackouts when some begin to loot and riot after a summer of protests. Terrorism looms large, as well, domestic and foreign, as it is always on everyone’s mind, especially since 9/11. Has another country done this? Have our own discontented citizens executed this traumatic situation? When will it end? Is it an environmental cataclysmic event? No one knows anything, and the unknown makes it more fearful and dangerous with assumptions being made that may or may not be true. Will the fear be a great equalizer or divider?
When all communication stops, there is no way for civilization to interact. As personalities are exposed, it is obvious that we all feel similar emotions, regardless of background or race. We all love and will sacrifice for our family. We all fear for our personal safety and well being. We are all concerned for how others think of us. We are essentially, all the same, in the end. Basic needs supersede all other needs. Will we work together to survive or will it be every man for himself? Could this happen in our lifetime? One will wonder about all of these questions as they turn the last page. As a suggestion, I think the reader should pay attention, not only to the story, but to the implications of this story on our way of life.
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