Exit West

exit-west-mohsin-hamid

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.

Author: Mohsin Hamid

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Rating: 5/5

This book offers a perspective on the refugee crisis happening today. It never mentions the nationality or religion of the characters by name, but these details can be easily inferred. And yes, it uses a magical element—the doors that transport you elsewhere in the world—but it’s not a fantasy book. Instead, these magical doors serve as a device by which Hamid emphasizes the experiences of his characters: that “elsewhere” offers hope, but for a refugee, it’s hard to feel welcome anywhere. No matter where you go, society will outcast you. “Elsewhere” may be better, but it is not utopia.

My favorite aspect of this book was Hamid’s writing style. He has a beautiful cadence and a masterful use of phrasing. He switches between short, matter-of-fact statements and long sentences joined by commas that can take an entire paragraph. These paragraphs may begin lightly, but by the end, you’ve been walloped. Here’s an example:

“Saeed prayed a great deal, and so did his father, and so did their guests, and some of them wept, but Saeed had wept only once, when he first saw his mother’s corpse and screamed, and Saeed’s father wept openly only when he was alone in his room, silently, without tears, his body seized as though by a stutter, or a shiver, that would not let go, for his sense of loss was boundless, and his sense of benevolence of the universe was shaken, and his wife had been his best friend.”

This book hypnotized me and took my breath away in moments I was least expecting it. It also made me think. Trust me. Read it.

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