Exit West: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017
By Mohsin Hamid
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia lock eyes across their classroom. After a while, they talk, he makes her smile and they start to fall in love. They try not to notice the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the curfews and the public executions.
Eventually the problem is too big to ignore: it’s not safe for Nadia to live alone and she must move in with Saeed, even though they are not married, and that too is a problem. Meanwhile, rumours are spreading of strange black doors in secret places across the city, doors that lead to London or San Francisco, Greece or Dubai. One day soon the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to seek out one such door, joining the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world.Tweet
Just as with The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid has picked up on a pivotal moment in modern history and makes you stop and think about it's meaning. I didn't love it AS much as I loved The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but I'd definitely recommend it as a read.
I loved Exit West. Sometimes I fear that I have become too critical a reader to really love a book but this novel impressed me unreservedly. Mohsin Hamid achieves everything that I could hope for in a work of literary fiction. This is a short novel telling the tale of Nadia and Saeed and their relationship as they become refugees seeking a new life.
The novel works beautifully on both the macro and micro level; being a wonderful exploration of a relationship over time through changing circumstances while also exploring politics and the way globalisation and the internet change the world. It is written in beautiful spare language making full use of the perspective of an omniscient narrator unfettered by time or space. We are also given glimpses of other lives unconnected to Naida and Saeed. Throughout, there are wonderfully poignant quotable sentences.
Hamid uses several literary devices. This includes never naming where Saeed and Nadia come from but it has echoes of Syria. They have recognisable modern lives and then outside forces grow; meaning living their daily lives becomes more and more difficult. The key device is it becoming possible to travel through ‘doors’ instantly arriving in a new country and the implications of this are then explored. For me this is the most wonderful manifestation of the idea of making the metaphor real. Hamid takes ideas around how the internet connects people around the world and puts that together beautifully with the fear and the opportunities of uncontrolled borders. There are also references to the idea of time as currency, which is a concept that I would love to read more about.
What I most appreciate is the way Hamid fully acknowledges the awfulness there is in the world but couples it with an attitude that we will continue to muddle along one way or another.
I really loved this book, I though it was beautifully written. Although it has been described as magic realism, I felt that this aspect of the novel was actually fairly minimal. The physical journey, in this case through hidden doors to what were hoped to be safer places, were mentioned only briefly. Although there were elements of fantasy in the places they ended up, a lot of the descriptions did not stray too far from reality or what you could imagine happening.
I felt that it was the personal journey's of the characters including lives prior to moving, how they felt about what they left behind, the adjustments that need to be made by those arriving in a new place and those who are local, and most importantly how people felt connected to others that were the main themes of the book.
The description of the relationship between Nadia and Saeed , how the relationship developed and changed over time, and how they connected with others was fascinating. Although I was sad they separated towards the end, this seemed like the right decision for both of them. I also liked how we were given brief insights into the experience of others at different points in the book, both those migrating and those who haven't but felt affected by what they witnessing . An example of the latter was a lady who had never moved from her home town but with all the changes around her over the years felt that she had migrated from what she knew. I thought the line “we are all migrants through time” to be very powerful.
A great read, it is really easy in the current political climate to write something that is literal and hard hitting, the author on the otherhand provides a beautifully written story where you take away the message cleverly crafted through the book in a relatable and honest way.
I felt the insights into other lives echoes you and me, the reader... Whilst we go on with daily life in whatever form and as I type this now there is potentially a Nadia and Saeed somewhere trying to find a door. The author brings them to us, offering us a door to join Saeed and Nadia on their journey.
Would definitely recommend.
Moshin Hamid story follows the relationship between two people, who meet in a city on the brink of civil war. As everyday life starts to collapse Nadia and Saeed have to make a decision where their future lies. At the same time magical black doors start appearing around the world enabling people from different geographies and cultures to meet without any ownership of the routes, allowing people to explore the world in a different way and resulting in worldwide change to societies.
On one hand I found Hamid's writing style very easy to read and he was able to capture the feelings and experiences of the Nadia and Saeed's relationship in an understandable and relatable way to readers. Despite most of the story happening on their journey to find a new home, the details of their experiences are kept to a minimum, focusing on their own individual story. Hamid writes from the perspective of them as individuals, as well as a couple, giving us an insight into lives and the decisions they make.
On the other hand this book makes us examine how societies and countries react to refugee crisis and making us examine the threat of 'other' by use of the black doors. These gateways provide new ways for people to migrate throughout the world without permission. By following the story of the young couple from an unknown time, from an unnamed city, going through similar rites of passages and interests as those in other parts of the world, he reminds us that we are all peers with shared experiences, regardless where you are from.
Although I enjoyed reading about Nadia and Saeed relationship I found the backdrop of refugee migration and the impact and reaction of other countries lacking detail and frustrating - the book focuses on some areas and blanks others and was at times a distraction to me. Still worth a read!
This is a very enjoyable and easy book to read despite the serious subject matter. The language and style makes it more accessible, but it deals with a great many ideas with both depth and subtlety. Alongside the theme of the distances created by national barriers, there is also the theme of the distances and barriers that people create amongst themselves, served up in very poignant moments. We see how cultures within cultures within cultures form and disperse, and while they can be extensive they can also be very fluid.
But the main strength of the book lies in how it humanises the people's of this Earth, as they live their lives against changing backdrops of peace and conflict, prejudice and acceptance, scarcity and opportunity.
I would happily recommend this book to anyone.