Leave the World Behind

Jane’s Pick: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind is a breathtaking book, and by that I mean I feel as if I can’t breathe right now as finish the last page. The author unfolds the narrative in a way that raised my anxiety, but, I swear – that is a positive, not a negative.  Any other year, it would be like riding a daredevil drop on a roller coaster ride or watching an atmospheric spooky movie. However, this year, it feels like realism; like it is what comes next.  The fear is both vague and tangible at the same time.

The premise is simple – a major disaster has occurred, but a family tucked away in a vacation rental home have no access to what has happened. Soon, an African American couple land on the doorstep – the actual owners of the home – wanting to stay during what they hope is only a regional blackout, but also fear it is worse.

And worse it is.  But the actual disaster isn’t a main player in the book – it exists right beyond the edge of the pages for most of the book. The book is about the 6 characters in the house – how they act and react and the wider questions behind the reactions. How we maneuver race and class, how we cope, where we live, how we live…what is next? Alam writes with sharp detail and observations so it was natural for me to imagine myself in the story; wondering how I would behave/unravel. In the book, information on the disaster is scarce, so I found myself desperately trying to make connections between the breadcrumbs the author drops along the way.

“Ruth had learned only one thing from the current reality, and it was that everything held together by tacit agreement that it would. All it took to unravel something was one party deciding to do just that. There was no real structure to prevent chaos. There was only a collective faith in order.”
― Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind

I couldn’t put this book down – I read it late into the night in my all too quiet home.  I wanted to race to the end; to understand what happened.  But the book isn’t meant for neat endings.  It makes you stay in the moment, building the fear and worry as the character work their way through the first days of their new reality.

Leave the World Behind is purposely written to be uncomfortable and ambiguous- and I applaud Alam for getting it so right. This book will haunt me for a long time.