Title: Exit West
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Page Count: 231
Publication Date: 2017
Category/Genre: Fiction, Magic Realism
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.82)
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (4)
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.
Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.
This book caught my attention through various mentions on social media. I was drawn to the idea of reading about the refugee experience from a fictional standpoint during a time that the news and world are full of stories of the passages of refugees and those seeking something better. I find the true stories of these people and their plights to be heartwrenching and also terrifying. Too often I felt that the human component seems to be lacking in the news and reporting narrative and it is all too easy for most of the world to approach it from a distance.
Seeing a book in a fictional format felt like it would bring a new perspective and dynamic to the situation for me and hopefully get to the gut-wrenching emotional turmoil and struggles that I wanted to understand more of.
The prose is simple yet full of imagery. It is beautiful but gritty, not unlike life and relationships. The long sentences seem to mimic the way that we think, immediately creating a connection between the narrator and the reader. The flow of thoughts makes it easy to imagine that you are sharing the experience and the surroundings with the character, right there inside their head through their journey, turmoil and growth.
The book begins in an occupied territory on the brink of a larger scale war. The country is left unnamed so that it can be any given place at any given time. Something that will no doubt make this a timeless piece of work.
Metaphysical doors and portals are rumored to be appearing all over. These passageways are used by those seeking to escape the harsh conditions they are in, but are heavily guarded and often shut down by the government. Initially, we are not even sure they exist, seeming to be more legend than reality and appearing at random times and places. Therefore access to them is challenging and part of an underground networking system.
The fact that no one had seemed to know of anyone that returned once they entered lends itself to make you wonder if these rumored doorways were just a hoax, a deathtrap or a route of escape. However, the mere existence brings hope and fear to those contemplating and yearning for a better life for themselves or loved ones. If finding these portals isn’t an easy task, making the decision to seek them out and step through is even more difficult.
It is easy to see how this symbolizes the migrant experience and the initial steps for a refugee that has made the oft-difficult decision to embark on something mysterious, dangerous and completely unknown.
As the novel progresses we are taken for a ride on a roller coaster of emotions along the journey of our two main characters. We don’t just experience the physical exhaustion, dangers, and hardships from the journey. We are given access to the intimate relationships formed and torn apart by migration, those that are clinging together as they grow in different directions because of the past and the present experiences. It aptly illustrates the craving of connection amidst chaos.
I was particularly intrigued by the vignettes scattered throughout the novel of others in various circumstances seeking change thru the doors as well. It was a subtle touch, quiet but hit hard to demonstrate that regardless of location, lifestyle and status, people everywhere are struggling and fighting their own wars, hoping and yearning for a second chance, a new beginning or change in conditions.
I found Exist West to be powerful and poetic and left me to wonder who and what I would be willing to leave behind and what chance would I be willing to take for freedom, peace or better opportunities.