Book Club Reflection: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

16 Apr

I already had one book club read and discuss Exit West by Mohsin Hamid so I didn’t reread the book. After the discussion, part of me wishes that I had. It seems that with the pandemic going on, this group got some very different messages and related to the characters differently than I did when reading it about a year ago.

Hamid was born in Pakistan but lived in the US in his childhood before returning to Pakistan and then to the US again for school. He studied under Joyce Carol Oats and Toni Morrison at Princeton and I could see some elements of Morrison’s melodic prose. Hamid’s novel Moth Smoke was turned into a movie that gained a fair amount of popularity. Some of our members enjoyed the writing style more than the plot. In retrospect, there isn’t too much of a plot to the book. One reader described it as a novel of ideas which doesn’t require character development or plot. Saeed and Nadia’s relationship isn’t the focus of the book, but it’s what’s happening during the book. The writing keeps the book moving.

It took some readers a while to realize that the doors were physical and not metaphorical. The helped make the logistics of migration disappear so that the book didn’t focus on how people get from one place to another but rather on the emotional side; why do people move? If we could all travel this quickly between places, would we migrate? We wondered if we would leave our homes and go somewhere with more freedom. I hear Sweden isn’t locked down. In the end, Saeed and Nadia have a happy ending and we don’t think that’s always likely. Our society will have to start accepting migrants more readily for these outcomes to be more common.

Many were struck by the short vignettes peppered through the story. They helped us see a variety of migrant experiences. Saeed and Nadia’s journey is what a lot of us think of when we hear that someone migrated but the people in the vignettes moved for a wider variety of reasons. For some migrants, there isn’t a single driving reason pushing them away and it can be hard to explain why they are going. In the end, some people did start to go home. As the situation at home changed, some went back. But others were settled and comfortable and stayed. One story that stuck out was the woman in California who lived in her house for so long that the world around it changed. There’s a great quote here, “We’re all migrants through time.” As things around us change, we adjust to the new normal. And once you leave a place, it continues to change. You can never return and expect something to be as it was before you left. Like you, it has changed. And when you leave, you damage the relationships left behind. Even if you don’t intend to. Technology makes it possible to keep up with someone, but it’s never the same. And often it ends completely.

Because of the current pandemic, some of the themes in this book spoke to us in different ways. The confinement that the characters felt when they were new was relatable because we can understand that feeling better. We’re also seeing drastic changes to socioeconomic status. People who were middle or upper class are losing jobs and unemployment and underemployment are running rampant. The characters didn’t realize their lives were about to change until they did, much the same way this pandemic has taken the world by storm and changed everything in a matter of weeks. Saeed and Nadia don’t know where they’ll end up or what the world they find will look like. We’re equally blind.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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