Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam

The cover shows tree branches in a dark silhouette with a dark blue sky, with the corner of a turquoise swimming pool and a lighter blue diving board with triangular metal handles in the foreground. The title, in block letters, is in complimentary shades of turquoise and blue.

by Aimee Z.

Is allyship a myth?  

Rumaan Alam explores this and more in his astute and fascinating third novel, Leave The World Behind. It begins simply enough:  A white Brooklyn family leave their hipster digs for an Airbnb week in the Hamptons. Like many Americans, Amanda, Clay, and their two teens view a beach vacation as an entitlement. It must be perfect – down to the SPF that won’t hinder your tanning goal.  

En route, Amanda orders Clay to stop at a small grocery store where she buys staples for the week: sustainable napkins, sourced maple syrup, even, Alam slyly adds, that “politically virtuous ice-cream, Ben and Jerry’s.” They pull up to the modest beach cottage and are delighted with the view of the water, a hot tub – even a pool. They barbecue, break out a $12 bottle of wine, swim – Amanda and Clay even have vacation sex that night.  Everyone falls into a blissful sleep as you, the reader, curl up with what feels like another mindlessly generic beach read.  

Then: there’s the proverbial knock at the door. It wasn’t a good thing for Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel, and it surely can’t be for Amanda and Clay. They know that the only good door knock anyone ever gets is from an Amazon delivery driver. Eventually, Clay peeks through the chained door and is greeted by an elderly African-American couple: G.H. and Ruth. 

Calmly and politely, they explain that they are the owners of the Hampton vacation house that Amanda and Clay are enjoying. Amanda clutches her phone, Alam writes, like it’s a soft toy. She’s convinced they are scammers. Worse, this is a home invasion – especially when G.H. and Ruth cook up some lie that all of Manhattan (where they were staying) has succumbed to a total blackout. 

Suddenly, that beach read you thought you were enjoying has become something entirely different – its focus now a witty and revealing spin on the social dynamics between black and white. And it is. Sort of. 

Eventually, G.H. and Ruth (over G.H.’s private stash of very old whiskey) convince Amanda and Clay that some kind of crisis must be taking place. No internet, a consistently blue TV screen, as well as dead cell phone reception are worrisome though not alarming – until Amanda and G.H. spot a flock of pink flamingos in the pool and an unearthly sound, capable of chaos, brings them all to their knees. 

Eloquent and urgent, especially as we come out of this last and devastating year, Leave the World Behind is the one book everyone must read. 

Leave the World Behind is also available at HCLS as an ebook and an eaudiobook through Libby/OverDrive.

Aimee Z. is part of the adult research staff at HCLS East Columbia Branch. She lives on a lake with her two labs, Dixie and Belle, who enthusiastically approved the content of this review in exchange for a peanut butter and jelly biscuit.

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