Poets & Writers

Leave the Expectations Behind

Rumaan Alam knows what many readers expect him to write. He is not immune to the expectation all writers of color face—that we will mine our identities to produce a kind of autofiction that will be praised for reflecting Black life or Latinx life or, in Alam’s case, Indian American life. He knows many readers might be waiting for him to write a novel that mirrors his own life as a forty-three-year-old gay, cisgender Indian American man raising two Black sons—Simon and Xavier—with the photographer David A. Land, his husband.

But Alam always chooses to write something else, and when I speak to him on Zoom—he is charming, thoughtful—I can tell he is used to defying expectations. He has written three novels, including his latest, Leave the World Behind, published in October by Ecco, that center on white protagonists and their preoccupations. The only thing all three novels have in common is their examination of many of Alam’s parental anxieties. Some might think he is stubbornly avoiding the unspoken obligation to write from an Indian American perspective, or a gay perspective, but in fact, as he told me, it is part of a long-standing strategy—one that appears to be working quite well.

His debut novel, , published by Ecco in 2016, and his sophomore novel, (Ecco, 2018), both focus on the intimacies of white female characters. follows childhood friends Sarah and Lauren, whose sisterly bond is tested as they come of age as glamorous adults in New York City. features the irritatingly self-involved Rebecca Stone, another well-to-do white woman, who hires a Black breastfeeding coach named Priscilla; when Priscilla dies in childbirth, Rebecca adopts the surviving child. “My first two books are more similar than they are different,” Alam says. “ is a departure. When I had the initial idea for

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