Questions and discussion topics
1. When Anders and Oona change skin color, they consider the ways they feel like the same person and the ways they don’t. The narrative reflects how they perceive others who change color and how others seem to perceive them. What does the book explore about the relationship between appearance and identity? What questions does it raise about how we conceive of identity itself?
2. The novel uses the terms “white” and “whiteness” throughout, but never “black” or any other racial vocabulary. Nor does it give a specific name to the place where the story takes place; in fact, it does not include proper names, apart from those of Anders and Oona. What is the effect on the reader of removing those familiar labels (and even the labeling habit itself)?
3. The narrative seems to address without judgment, even with sympathy, the experiences and attitudes of the four main characters (Anders, Oona, Anders’ father and Oona’s mother) and, indeed, their behaviors and mentalities in their darkest moments. disturbing. Why do you think Hamid made that narrative decision? What was the impact on you when reading?
4. Much of the initial response to the changes in skin color that are sweeping the anonymous land of the novel is violent: militias form, vigilantism takes hold. Little by little the tide turns towards peace. What impulses fuel violence? How and why do alternative answers emerge?
5. Oona and Anders lost a parent, and Oona also lost her brother to suicide. How do these past losses affect you in the present? How do losses shape your relationships with your surviving parents, and how do losses bring the two of you together?
6. It is Anders’ father who proves to be the “last white man” of the title. Much detail is devoted to his death, the care that Anders gave him, and the past and present dynamics that this death evokes in Anders. How did this aspect of the narrative impact you? How do you perceive his relationship to the theme of unstoppable change and the response to it in the broader arc of the novel?
7. Oona’s mother’s reaction to the changes in the people around her in general, and her daughter’s in particular, is more overtly dramatic than Anders’ father’s reaction to the changes around him, and their relationship. Oona with her mother is presented as more controversial than Anders with his father. After her mother’s change, Oona is surprised to feel a positive effect and discovers that she does not know “in retrospect, whether things had really been as precarious as she had imagined.” What does this turn of events, perceptions and memory suggest?
8. The characters in the book experience events occurring in the world around them both directly and indirectly, as they appear in the news and on the Internet, and respond to these inputs in very different ways. What does the novel observe about the role of perception, interpretation, and agency in a highly mediated and media-saturated world?
9. Oona and Anders’ daughter, like all children of the generation born after the change, has no memory or concept of whiteness. How does her arrival in the story change the course? How did you feel about the ending of the book?
10. Hamid has written that the novel was inspired by his post-9/11 “deep sense of loss” of his own “partial whiteness”: hitherto unquestioned access to a good education, well-paying jobs, freedom of movement, and other services. . privileges. What do you think about this concept of race as a contingent? How does it develop in the novel? How do you see it in action in your own life, your community, your country?