Exit West Review

Title: Exit West
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

Blurb: 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.

Me: Such a relevant, poignant, simple yet moving story of two people in extremely difficult situations. I loved it.

The Ups: Mohsin Hamid is a great writer. I've read The Reluctant Fundamentalist by him before, and was impressed but not particularly drawn to it. But Exit West was really taking over the literary scene last year, and since Hamid is coming to Austin in a few days, I decided I had to read it. 

The first thing I loved about the book was the relationship and real-ness of the two main characters: Saeed and Nadia. From the beginning of their relationship, flirting as bombs fell across their city, and to the end of the book, the love changing and fading and the two individuals growing very different, not a single moment felt unnatural between the two. Both were tangibly separate individuals, fully realized in their values and strengths and worries, and not just their relationship, which is how couples can often be portrayed.

I also was fascinated by the doors in the story. There are somewhat magical doors throughout the book that transport characters from place to place, just in the major transitions on their journeys as refugees. No other part of the book is in any way fantastical, and the unique existence of these doors was such a symbolic, perfectly figurative, symbol for the entryways in and out of borders. 

This book's relevancy is quite evidently in the story of refugees, a tough and divisive topic across the world. Mohsin Hamid addresses current events and turmoil so expertly. He doesn't ever overtly make any arguments, yet the overall conclusion of the book is very clear: doors should be opened. 

I have also been quite naive when it comes to the refugee experience, and reading this book was great in that it showed all aspects of the difficulty of the situation. It touched on the constant feeling of shame, or want, the turn to community, akin to a sort of nationalism, and the different personal journey each refugee goes through.

No spoilers, but the ending slowly crushed my heart. A piece of advice I heard about a story was that its ending should be inevitable but still surprising. This ending was exactly that, and I felt so intertwined in these characters lives that I was frustrated I couldn't do something to help them. 

The Downs: The only thing about this book is exactly what I felt with The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and that's just a disconnect with Hamid's writing. Don't get me wrong - he's a fantastic writer. But personally, I find his writing a little too sparse in language but too long-winded in syntax...not the greatest combination. I always walk away feeling like I could've been more moved or touched. 

Overall: A very important story that does its job incredibly. 

Rating: 5 kisses!

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