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Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Literary fiction

Leave the World Behind

Repeat author

Rumaan Alam is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include Rich and Pretty.

by Rumaan Alam

Excellent choice

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Quick take

This ominous, genre-bending novel gets real weird real fast after a blackout strands two families in a vacation home.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Cerebral

    Cerebral

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Brainy

    Brainy

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Unsettling

    Unsettling

Synopsis

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 Black 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 another?

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Leave the World Behind.
Leave the World Behind

I

Well, the sun was shining. They felt that boded well—people turn any old thing into an omen. It was all just to say no clouds were to be seen. The sun where the sun always was. The sun persistent and indifferent.

Roads merged into one another. The traffic congealed. Their gray car was a bell jar, a microclimate: air-conditioning, the funk of adolescence (sweat, feet, sebum), Amanda’s French shampoo, the rustle of debris, for there always was that. The car was Clay’s domain, and he was lax enough that it accrued the talus of oats from granola bars bought in bulk, the unexplained tube sock, a subscription insert from the New Yorker, a twisted tissue, ossified with snot, that wisp of white plastic peeled from the back of a Band-Aid who knew when. Kids were always needing a Band-Aid, pink skin splitting like summer fruit.

The sunlight on their arms was reassuring. The windows were tinted with a protectant to keep cancer at bay. There was news of an intensifying hurricane season, storms with fanciful names from a preapproved list. Amanda turned down the radio. Was it sexist, somehow, that Clay drove, and always did? Well: Amanda had no patience for the attendant sacraments of alternate-side-of-the-street parking and the twelve-thousand-mile checkup. Besides, Clay took pride in that kind of thing. He was a professor, and that seemed to correlate with his relish for life’s useful tasks: bundling old newspapers for recycling, scattering chemical pellets on the sidewalk when the weather turned icy, replacing lightbulbs, unclogging stopped sinks with a miniature plunger.

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Why I love it

I first read Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam in the middle of the darkest days of the pandemic. The feelings of isolation, fear and uncertainty were so vivid in Alam’s writing that I worried it would be too immediate. I’m not typically drawn to books like this but I was captivated by Alam’s masterfully written characters and the detail and intimacy with which he writes about family dynamics and race.

The story begins with Amanda, a type-A working mom; her cigarette-sneaking husband, Clay; and their two teenage children, Rose and Archie; as they embark on a picturesque vacation from their busy Brooklyn-based lives. Everything is going well at the secluded property they rented in a far-flung corner of Long Island, until an elderly Black couple—the owners, as it turns out—knocks at the door in the middle of the night, seeking refuge from a blackout in the city. As the isolated strangers navigate their new relationship, mysterious happenings continue to make them question everything they think they know.

With October being the month for eerie stories, I could not imagine a better book to pick up than Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. It’s chilling and mysterious but also poignant and even funny. My only advice: Read it with the lights on.

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Member ratings (22,176)

  • Trisha B.

    Norman, OK

    Unsettled and vaguely haunted. That’s me right now. This could be a companion to The Stand—I’m...This might that test book for me—if you didn’t like it or don’t get it, we can never be true friends

  • Jennifer B.

    La Grange, KY

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ⭐️story ⭐️⭐️ writing This story isn’t so much post apocalyptic as is mid apocalyptic. And this story is made even eerier by the fact that I read it during a pandemic.

  • Grace M.

    Elmont , NY

    I saw this on a list of best dystopian novels; I’m glad I read it. It’s the type of book that has many layers and which I’d love to discuss but few people in my world are readers. That’s my dystopia.

  • Patty T.

    Colorado Springs, CO

    Beautifully written— when he overwrites it’ like he’s swinging for the fences and misses but that’s rare. So much to love:the interactions; the shallowness of the characters and their depth. Amazing.

  • Mia B.

    Charlotte, NC

    There were parts in this book that I had to remind myself to breath. It’s so well written & with each page, you have no idea what’s coming. I wouldn’t call it scary but suspenseful. Highly recommend!

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