Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West which was recently short listed for the Man Booker prize was one of my anticipated’s read this past month. I had read his earlier books, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Moth Smoke and have enjoyed his modern writing style. An intelligent novelist, with a unique storytelling ability, Hamid’s latest book, Exit West, is a book that evokes much feeling and is pertinent in these times when we face a refugee crisis.
Exit West follows the story of Saeed and Nadia, two people who meet in an unnamed country, that is on the brink of civil war. Like the refugees in the story, they flee the country not by boats, but through ‘magical doors’.
The story follows their struggles, as they try to hold on to each other and their relationship, face both kindness and hardships in refugee camps, and tackle the emotional turmoil of leaving one’s homeland.
The first half of the book introduces us to the two main characters Saeed and Nadia, who meet at an evening class on ‘corporate identity and product branding’. Their relationship grows amidst all the chaos in the city. They are two very ordinary people, who grab a coffee together, have dinner at a Chinese restaurant and exchange instant messages with each other while at work.
As their love blossoms, the conditions in their city starts to deteriorate. There are constant gun shots, periodic raids, cell phone signals are cut, and helicopters and drones swarm the sky. Even though uncertainty prevailed, I felt the Saeed and Nadia tried to keep their normalcy alive.
“To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.” -Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
Even though it is a love story set against a refugee crisis, it is by no means a heavy read. In fact, the first half of the book had a good pace to it. The words have flowed so beautifully, almost lyrical and poetic. The descriptions are so vivid, that you want to reread it again to take it all in.
“when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” – Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
For the first time Mohsin Hamid uses the element of magical realism in this book. Though the book is about migration, we do not see refugees travelling by boat or places and there is no focus on the logistics of migrating. Instead there are magic doors, much like ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, which is also one of Hamid’s favorite novel. The ‘magical doors’ essentially transport you to another country, when you pass through them. The doors are not easy to come by either and are heavily guarded. Through these doors, Saeed and Nadia arrive on the Greek island of Mykonos, London, and a town in California.
“We are all migrants through time.”
-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
I did feel like second half of the book, was slower in its pace. For some reason, I was anticipating something more dramatic to happen. Still, with its beautifully crafted sentences, often long and winding, the plot did not seem to move forward much. But this book is perhaps more about evoking feeling, as opposed to being plot-driven.
I think listening to the author talk about his book, puts the context in perspective much better. By force of habit, I always look up an author’s bio and his talks on his book. I feel it helps us understand his own frame of mind, and consequently the book better, Here are a couple of clips that I enjoyed listening to where Mohsin Hamid talks about his book Exit West.
Mohsin Hamid in talk with the WSJ
Mohsin Hamid on Seth Myers
Until next time.