In ‘Leave The World Behind,’ 2 Families Face The Unknown Together

Rumaan Alam’s latest novel, Leave the World Behind, centers on a white family and an older Black couple who find themselves together in a beautiful vacation house on Long Island while a power outage — and possibly something much worse — grips much of the East Coast.

The novel, which is up for the National Book Award, explores class and race relations — and how we respond to crisis and fear. The juxtaposition between the luxury inside the home and the growing sense of uneasiness outside the house seems to speak to life during the pandemic, but Alam says the connection was purely accidental.

“I could not have foreseen the particular cultural moment into which I’m publishing this book,” he says.

Alam, who lives in Brooklyn, felt a particular tension between safety and confinement during the early days of New York City’s COVID-19 shutdown: “I felt really trapped earlier this year when it was March and it was kind of cold outside and the playgrounds weren’t open and there really was nowhere for me and my kids to go. And it’s hard to hold those two things in your head — that you can have the great fortune of having a place to be and still feel a little trapped there.”

That tension runs throughout Leave the World Behind: “There’s a discomfort in that metaphor of the home — the luxurious home that promises to be this family’s getaway — that eventually becomes this family’s trap,” Alam says.

Interview highlights

On the novel’s opening chapters, in which the white family who is renting the house opens the door in the middle of the night to an older Black couple who claim to be the home’s owners

The reader is meant to feel a bit of discomfort there because,

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