Tag Archives: rumaan alam


Leave The World Behind is a buzzy book this fall, helped by the fact that it’s apocalyptic, like the time we’re living through, and tense, fitting for October. The reviews I’ve read have definitely been divided, though. Some people think it’s one of the best books they’ve read in 2020, while others were disappointed by the ending and/or and didn’t understand the hype. I am not squarely in either camp – I liked it, even if I am not entirely sure what to make of it.

Why I picked it up: The premise and the hype. I liked but didn’t love Alam’s last novel, That Kind Of Mother, but I couldn’t resist this one. It was my October BOTM pick.

In Leave The World Behind, a family of four from Brooklyn has rented a summer house in outer Long Island for a week through Airbnb. Amanda and Clay and their kids Rose and Archie spend a day and a half relaxing in the upscale home, settling into their vacation. Late the second night, there is a knock at the door. Amanda opens it to find an older couple, Ruth and G.H., the owners of the house, who have shown up because of a blackout in New York City. They say they have nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, no one’s cell phones are working, the internet and cable TV are out, and there is no way to find out what’s really going on – terrorism? storm? – or whether the couple is telling the truth.

I don’t want to reveal much more. The rest of the book is about the characters’ response to the strange situation they find themselves in – their assumptions, their panicked reactions, their pursuits of comfort and reassurance. Like That Kind Of Mother, Leave The World Behind looks at race and class, exploring the assumptions the two couples make about each other and the trust – or lack thereof – that grows between them. Meanwhile. Alam ratchets up the tension as everyone in the house gets more frantic for news from the outside world and strange things start happening.

I finished Leave The World Behind feeling deeply unsettled, both about the fate of these characters but also about our own present reality. Alam’s ending is ambiguous but not unrealistic. There is a strong sense of dread and foreboding that only gets stronger as the pages turn, leaving the ultimate resolution as much to the reader’s imagination as Alam’s (though he does guide us there with hints along the way). Some people were dissatisfied with the lack of a true ending in Leave The World Behind. I was actually a bit relieved that I didn’t have to witness whatever was really going on, but, as I mentioned, I felt very unsettled and anxious when I finished. I enjoyed the story and the writing quite a bit, especially the little details about meals and clothes that made it so easy to picture this story unfolding. I’m just still trying to figure out what to make of it all.

Leave The World Behind was Book #53 of 2020.


I made it through 7 books on vacation! That’s a lot for me. I crammed in reading the whole time I was gone, waking up early to read and spending a lot of time poolside. To me, 7 books is the sign of a successful vacation.

Vacation Read #1 was That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam. This is my August book club pick and one that I bought  this spring (rare for me) before picking it up at Book Expo (of course!).

Rebecca is a new mother living in Washington DC in the 80s. She has just had her first child, and breastfeeding is proving to be a challenge. Rescue takes the form of Priscilla, a lactation consultant working at the hospital to help new mothers. Priscilla’s calm presence and patient guidance helps Rebecca through the murky early days of motherhood, and when Rebecca decides she wants to hire a nanny to free up her days so that she can resume her writing career, she persuades Priscilla to quit her job and come work for her.

The two women settle into an easy, comfortable relationship – almost a friendship, but a bit more complicated. Rebecca, white, is an open book. But Priscilla, African-American, always remains a bit of a mystery. When Priscilla – already the mother of a grown daughter, tells Rebecca that she’s pregnant, her employer is surprised but promises to make it work. And when Priscilla then dies in childbirth – having given birth right a few weeks before her own daughter has her first child – Rebecca decides takes the baby home and ultimately adopts him.

That Kind of Mother is about parenthood and the many ways having children impacts lives and relationships. The author, himself the father of two adopted boys of a different race, explores what it’s like to be white and parent a black child. Rebecca has to contend with her feelings of sadness about Priscilla’s death, her loyalty to her husband, the competing needs of her two sons, and the responsibility she feels to Priscilla’s daughter and her family. Rebecca is unrealistically clueless about the realities of being black – and in particular a black man – and is shocked by the injustice she is warned that her son may experience. Overall, she means well and through her, Alam empathetically depicts the complexities of motherhood. But in the end she turns out to be pretty selfish and rather naive. And I am not sure that the underlying friendship between Priscilla and Rebecca is convincing enough to merit Rebecca’s commitment to Priscilla’s son.

This was the first book I read on vacation and I am struggling to remember the details – not a great sign. It was a pleasant enough read but it left little impact on me. The treatment of race was pretty shallow in the end, and didn’t add much to what is  currently a pretty robust debate.

Maybe my book club discussion in a few weeks will awaken my memories, but for now this book was just OK for me.