Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West — an imaginative tale of love, war and displacement — recounts the story of two migrants, Saeed and Nadia, who flee their unnamed country in the midst of a civil war, and travel across the globe through fantastical portals (or doorways) in an attempt to invent new lives for themselves.
The novel has two focuses: how war distorts every day life, and pedestrian rituals and routines fall to the wayside, and relationships warp into something alien; and the difficulties refugees face finding new homes. Because even when they are able to escape their own country, refuges face innumerable obstacles as they seek to establish a new existence. Hamid’s novel streamlines the migration process with the invention of these portals — people can easily get from one land to another — but that doesn’t make settlement any easier.
The relationship between Saeed and Nadia is never anything less than complicated and constantly in flux. The two have instant chemistry, but as their situation changes, and they’re forced to deal with the stresses of living in a war-torn country, then leaving it and coping with seemingly never-ending displacement, fractures form and heal. Their relationship feels genuine, and though Exit West can be described as a love story, it’s not necessarily about romantic love.
This is my first experience with Mohsin Hamid and I was blown away by his prose. He’ll juxtapose long-running, comma-heavy sentences with brusque passages that read more like a Chandler novel. I’ve immediately added The Reluctant Fundamentalist to my reading stack, and he’ll be an author I keep an eye on moving forward. Few writers are as capable of writing as thematically-heavy stories without their message becoming burdensome. Hamid is an exquisite storyteller.
It’s bittersweet and loaded with despair, but Exit West is a novel that will stick with me for a long time. It’s a novel that begs for discussion — perfect for book clubs — and delivers some truths that stick and twist like a knife. It’s a migrant’s tale unlike any I’ve read before.
Format: Hardback (222mm x 144mm x 25mm)
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 2-Mar-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom