Archive | 10:29 AM

Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (4/5)

23 May

I guess I thought this book would be longer, but I was through it in a week. Maybe the physical book had wide margins or large print because the audiobook was just over four and a half hours. I’m not complaining, don’t get me wrong, but I thought this would be a longer haul than it ended up being.

Cover image via Goodreads

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

This book is very timely. Most of the world is struggling with the ‘problem’ of refugees. I think Hamid put everything in perspective well. Why do the receiving countries think they are struggling when it’s the refugees themselves who are the ones struggling. These are not people who are rejected by society in their home countries. Many of them are well educated and ambitious people whose worlds have crashed around them. Saeed and Nadia were doing fine in their hometown until everything around them changed and suddenly they weren’t. Given the chance, they’d love to be back to being ambitious and continue their education. They just need that chance and continue to travel further and further west trying to find it.

Saeed and Nadia were good characters to tell this story. I felt the story was a bit more of a general story of refugees and refugee flight. The relationship between them wasn’t really important to what Hamid wanted to say. I felt their journey was rather typical from what I’d heard and I liked how it was portrayed, especially their time in London and how contentious their presence became.

Nadia was my favorite character. Maybe it was just because she was a woman, but I was able to relate to her well. She was strong and I liked how independent she was before the fighting started in her hometown. She didn’t need Zaid, but she wanted him so was happy to have him around. I’d like to think I’m that independent.

However, their story, the migrant experience, was one that was completely new to me. It’s being shared more and more with the current state of the world, and I thought this was a great way to share it. It seemed familiar because I’ve heard it in the news and with the refugees I’ve met, but it was very far from my own story. I think that, along with the small bit of magical realism, is what made it feel so escapist.

Mohsin Hamid
Image via PRH Speaker’s Bureau

Their story while in London was my favorite part. I felt they hit a lot of the issues the Western world has with immigrants and refugees. The degradation of the home they lived in felt very real to me and probably upset the people who lived there before. The riots that came as a result of the police intervention were very impactful to me. It seemed believable that the ‘riots’ we see are often only a result of ‘peaceful requests’ for people to abandon the one thing that’s constant in their lives. Giving the refugees a way to work for a home was a must more productive way of having them move and still respect them.

A bit of a spoiler ahead, so skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it. The ending was sad to me, but it was very real. Just because they had escaped danger together and survived hardship together didn’t mean that the two were meant to be together. It was clear early on that Nadia didn’t like being dependent on Saeed and that Saeed wanted to be with someone who shared his religious convictions more than Nadia did. I didn’t see them falling apart as much as they did, but it wasn’t a surprise.

Hamid narrated the audiobook. I seem to be on a streak of this, or it’s a new trend. I thought he did a fine job. There was very little dialogue so I didn’t have any concerns about how he did female voices and he gave the story the weight it deserved. I’m not sure I’d want to hear him read other books, but he was great for this one.

There are a lot of people in Saeed and Nadia’s positions. It’s sadly common for people to be internally displaced or refugees, escaping violence somewhere they used to call home. I think books like this are important, putting faces and stories behind the large groups of people who many feel are an invasion. Why is asking for help taking anything away from us? Why can’t we help or share or make laws to help? People like Saeed and Nadia can add to a country and an economy but our governments are people don’t always see that. These stories can help.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think the minimal dialogue in this book increased its impact. It helped the story focus on Saeed and Nadia as refugees instead of their interpersonal relationships. We heard about their struggles to find a way out of Greece and didn’t focus so much on the girl who helped them. The focus was on the tenement and less on how Nadia felt about her neighbors. There was enough character development and plot to move the story along, but it was also a general story that Saeed and Nadia share with thousands, if not millions, of other refugees.

A great and timely read. I think it will do well for book club. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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