by Mohsin Hamid
Riverhead – Penguin
March 2, 2017
Man Booker Prize (2017)
National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (2017)
Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction (2018)
Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction (2017)
Folio Prize (2017)
Los Angeles Times Brook Prize for Fiction (2017)
Exit West is set in a world in the midst of a war.
The story focuses on the journey of two characters, Saeed and Nadia. The novel also sheds light on the watershed effects of war and how it has far reaching effects globally on everyday people everywhere. It also dives into how globalization, as a result of war, affects cities and their residents around the globe, a contemporary issue in today’s modern day culture and climate.
Saeed is gentle, humble, considerate, civil, religious, and has a great appreciation for the universe at large.
Nadia is fiercely independent, yet she thrives on staying connected to the world via her smartphone and the internet. She is not religious but still wears a veil so “men do not f*ck with her”.
Throughout the book, there are vignettes of unnamed people from different parts of the world. While these vignettes interrupt the main narrative, they shed light on the domino effects of war.
People escape their war-ridden countries through teleportation doors. These doors are difficult to find, and even more so when word spreads about them. The common doors will bring you from one disastrous city to the next.
I interpreted this book as an extreme reality, a version of the future, or a parallel universe. On the contrary, the majority of readers are classifying it as fantasy; I have a hard time accepting Exit West as fantasy because teleportation is not far-fetched and the government is already utilizing its capabilities, and Hamid agrees with me (see his interview for The New York Times).
To me, the story represents government control and the globalization of war. Only the most powerful people who have the most powerful technology abuse it, as seen with the structures built around teleportation door that could bring safety to the people in war-ridden areas. I see how our world is moving toward complete control. That notion is mirrored in Nadia and Saeed’s home country when the government takes away electricity, running water, and freedom. As the government advances they take more from us.
I struggled with the vignettes; they were random and fragmented. They are purposeful in the ability to show the far reaching effects of war), but it was odd there was no consistency or follow-up interludes on previous debuts.
This novel begs for questions and discussion, there are so many open-ended/up for interpretation scenarios. Hamid had me rereading and reflecting upon every page. I highly enjoyed reading this novel and discussing it with Mia; it is a great book to partner-read or include in a book club!
Exit West is subtly violent, and I think this technique is used to show the effects war has on common, everyday people. The globalization as a result of the war is truly notable. Saeed and Nadia list migrants with diverse nationalities, which makes the reader understand that it is a global war. It is significant and powerful that the war is not named or placed in any part of the world; it could be anywhere.
I am hesitant to believe that Exit West is set in the future based on the teleporting doors. For me, the doors are a metaphor for migration and also as a way for Hamid to intentionally glance over the migration process and tell a larger tale. He describes teleportation, and the whole process of how a refugee gets from one country to the next. Essentially falling through space, time, and ‘black doors’. This sort of magical realism takes away from the story of refugees and their escapes. However, the notion that a war zone is very much magical and people do fall through the cracks is not lost upon me.
As for the vignettes or interludes, I think these sections are important because they relay to the reader that the war Saeed and Nadia are experiencing is having a global affect. They exemplify the concept of postcolonial writers tackling big ideas through ‘small things’.
I have to say, I was kind of disappointed with the ending. I was fine with them parting ways, I wanted Nadia to reunite with the girl in Mykonos. It was my fault to be looking for a happy ending in such a war-torn and dystopian novel.
“The sky above their city had become too polluted for much in the way of stargazing” (Hamid 15).
“Refugees had occupied many of the open places in the city, pitching tents in the greenbelts between roads, erecting lean-tos next to the boundary walls of houses, sleeping rough on sidewalks and in the margins of streets. Some seemed to be trying to re-create the rhythms of a normal life, as thought it were completely normal to be residing, a family of four, under a sheet of plastic propped up with branches and a few chipped bricks” (Hamid 26).
“…helicopters filled the sky like birds startled by a gunshot…” (Hamid 34).
“Conversations focused mainly on conspiracy theories, the status of the fighting, and how to get out of the country” (Hamid 52).
“Rumors had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country” (Hamid 72).
“The end of the world can be cozy at times.” -Nadia