How Do We Face Loss With Dignity?

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In his latest work, “The Last White Man,” the award-winning writer Mohsin Hamid imagines a world that is very like our own, with one major exception: On various days, white people wake up to discover that their skin is no longer white. It’s a heavy premise, but one of Hamid’s unique talents as a novelist is his ability to take on the most difficult of topics — racism, migration, loss — with a remarkably light touch.

“How do you begin to have these conversations in a way that allows everybody a way in?” Hamid asks at one point in our conversation. “How do you talk about these things in a way that’s open to everyone?” What sets Hamid apart is his capacity to do just that — both in his fiction and in our conversation. We discuss:

  • How Hamid experienced what it was like to lose his whiteness after 9/11
  • What happens to a society when suddenly we can’t sort ourselves by race
  • The origins of modern humans’ fear of death — and how to overcome it
  • Why Hamid thinks future humans will look back at the idea of borders with moral horror
  • Why Hamid believes that pessimistic realism is a “deeply conservative” worldview
  • Hamid’s process for imagining optimistic futures
  • Why Hamid believes that the very notion of the self is a fiction
  • Why we turn to activities like sex, drugs and meditation when we get overwhelmed
  • How America’s policies toward immigrants and refugees should challenge our “heroic” sense of national identity
  • What Toni Morrison taught Hamid about how to read and write

And more.

Mentioned:

"The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Book Recommendations:

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Andrew George

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at ezrakleinshow@nytimes.com.

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris, Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Sonia Herrero and Isaac Jones; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.

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