Exit West is the first novel I’ve ever read by Mohsin Hamid, but it undoubtedly will not be the last! Hamid touches on relationships, religion, immigration, and social interactions, all with a beautiful style of magical realism that flowed so well I simply didn’t want to put it down.
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. For many days.
This is how the story of Nadia and Saeed begins, in a country teetering on the brink of a civil war. The dangerous country is never named, but it is obvious that it is somewhere in the Middle East. People are living here in constant fear, people are shot on their way to work, and sometimes even in their own homes.
Nadia is a fiercely independent women living alone, who wears a black robe from head to toe. She does not do this for religious purposes. In fact she never prays; she’s simply comfortable doing what she wants to do. Saeed is religious, lives at home with a loving family and prays almost daily, yet is much more unsure of himself. Both are very intrigued by one another and they begin a relationship amidst the growing war within their country. They start off as close friends and then slowly begin to realize how much of a physical, social, and intellectual connection they have with one another.
As the relationship between them begins to pick up, so does the war within their country. New curfews are put into place, and the government begins to cut electricity and cell phone services, making Nadia and Saeed fear for one another’s safety. Their country is becoming unlivable for them. They soon begin to hear about ‘doors’ throughout their city and country. These doors are rumored to transport people away from their terrible city and to a new location. The tricky thing about these doors is that one cannot pick the location of their destination, and therefore they may end up in a new country as an unwanted immigrant. Nadia and Saeed decide to take the leap and pay for someone to find a door for them. They feel as if they have lost everything, and that they simply cannot have a life worth living in their country. They are willing to take the risk of being an immigrant or even refugee if it means that they can have a better life.
I know, this is a magical twist that may turn some people away…but I promise, the story is still just as powerful. You still see the stress and uncertainty that comes with a new relationship, even more so with one in a country at war with itself. You see family relationships at their best and at their worst. You also get a look into the life of refugees and how, even though they’re in the same situation, people can turn on one another quickly. In our world today, refugees are often painted in a negative light. Hamid takes you into the mindset of a refugee and helps bring back the humanity that’s often lost in today’s world. Nadia and Saeed love one another, they love friends and family, they have relationships, they lose relationships, they’re people who are fighting to just make it out of a situation that they want no part of. They’re fighting for one another, they’re fighting for themselves, and they’re fighting for others around them. In the end, Hamid has written an extraordinary novel about love and loss in the mists of war.
I’m a fan. I can’t wait for more from Mohsin Hamid. Exit Westis fantastic.