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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West

by Mohsin Hamid

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6124415,926 (4.01)104



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Saeed and Nadia are young people embarking on a romantic relationship as civil war breaks out in their unnamed country. When their lives in a war zone become untenable, they decide to flee through magical doors that serve as portals to other countries. They end up in a migrant camp in Greece and then travel further to the West. As they deal with exile, their relationship changes.

The country of their origin is never specifically named because the author wanted to emphasize that Saeed and Nadia’s situation is almost universal; the focus of the book is on the dilemma of refugees world-wide. There is also no description of harrowing or life-and-death journeys; the writer was not interested in portraying the physical hardships endured by migrants but wanted to focus on the psychological impact of migration.

Hamid certainly wants to draw attention to the various reasons for mass migration: “All over the world people were slipping away from where they had been, from once fertile plains cracking with dryness, from seaside villages gasping beneath tidal surges, from overcrowded cities and murderous battlefields . . . ” He also wants to emphasize what it really means to leave one’s life behind: “when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” And there are no promises for refugees: will they be met with acceptance or will they feel “unmoored, adrift in a world where one could go anywhere but still find nothing”?

Hamid wants to emphasize that we are all migrants; an old woman who has lived in one house her entire life realizes that her neighbourhood has changed: “every year someone was moving out and someone was moving in . . . and all sorts of strange people were around, people who looked more at home than she was, . . . more at home maybe because they were younger, and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.”

In fact, Hamid wants to draw attention to what all people have in common: “loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another.” The glimpses into other lives interspersed throughout the narrative serve to show similarities in our experiences: everyone wants sanctuary and acceptance. Perhaps, instead of “building walls and fences and strengthening their borders,” and wishing “people would go back to where they came from,” it would be better to live in a world without borders.

Change is one constant throughout the book. Saeed and Nadia change locations several times; the dynamics of their relationship keep shifting; periodically, the narrative moves away from the main story to brief vignettes involving other people in other parts of the world; and the book could even be labelled as genre-shifting. The point is that everything is transient: “that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.”

Characterization is used to challenge our pre-conceptions. Saeed, the male, is quiet and pious while Nadia, the female, is independent and sexually assertive. Though Nadia is not religious, rides a motor bike, and uses drugs, she wears a black robe associated with conservatives. Saeed prays regularly but he prays “fundamentally as a gesture of love” and because prayer allows him “to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world.” Hamid wants to shake up gender and religious stereotypes.

I cannot say that I always enjoyed reading the book. I disliked the paucity of dialogue and the distancing third person omniscient point of view. Nonetheless, it is a very timely novel which explores the impact of migration. It asks the reader to consider thoughtfully the plight of refugees regardless of where they came from and where they find themselves.

Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Oct 9, 2017 |
The transition half-way through into magic-realism took me out of the book for the longest time. Eventually I simply accepted it as a shortcut metaphor which avoided an ugly description of the brutal conditions that refugees often have to undergo. Then you have to resolve why it is that is avoided. Likely to remain more committed to the story of Nadia and Saeed and their evolving relationship and lives. They are both well drawn characters.

It is compelling writing nevertheless and resolves in a hopeful way. Your appreciation will likely depend on how much you are distracted by the transition and how quickly you can resolve and accept it. But you will read on regardless. The 3 rating is another one of my compromise votes as this shifted from a 5 beginning to a 1 middle to a 5 conclusion. ( )
  alanteder | Oct 7, 2017 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this magical, yet completely realistic and timely piece. ( )
  lissabeth21 | Oct 3, 2017 |
Beautifully written story about the different forms that love, family, community, and a sense of place and home can take. Another reviewer described it as melancholy, yet hopeful. That captures the tone perfectly. Highly recommended. ( )
  angiestahl | Sep 28, 2017 |
Some casual impressions, quickly noted:

This novel is short but not shallow, melancholy yet hopeful, topical but only rarely preachy, polished if not spare.

The author's tone is pleasantly understated, his descriptions clear, taut, and immediate, his use of metaphors minimal. The plot moves rapidly, the contours of the story unfolding broadly but assuredly; however the narrative tone gives an impression of slowness, an impression of time dilating as a result of the reader always perfectly inhabiting the moment being described. The tone also reminds me of a fable, and despite most recommendations about writing, the author succeeds in advancing his tale by telling rather than just showing. The magic element is both immediately and subtly integrated into the book (from the very first chapter), such that I didn't really notice it until it creates a dramatic change in the lives of the main protagonists.

The initial setting reminded me of the film, Incendies, mostly for the way it handled a fictional Middle Eastern city at a moment of crisis. It also brought to mind William T. Vollmann's stories "Escape" and "Listening to the Shells" which both contain a story-within-a-story about a pair of Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired lovers in Sarajevo and the impact their lives/deaths have or fail to have on the characters of the two larger stories. Despite these similarities, overall, Exit West is ultimately a quiet Romance, not a Tragedy. ( )
  augustgarage | Sep 26, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
Hamid, intentionally for the most part, doesn’t exert as tight a narrative grip as he did in previous novels such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Exit West shifts between forms, wriggles free of the straitjackets of social realism and eyewitness reportage, and evokes contemporary refugeedom as a narrative hybrid: at once a fable about deterritorialisation, a newsreel about civil society that echoes two films – Kevin Brownlow’s It Happened Here and Peter Watkins’s The War Game – and a speculative fiction that fashions new maps of hell...Most of all there is prayer – prayer for the loss that “unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry”.
Mohsin Hamid’s dynamic yet lapidary books have all explored the convulsive changes overtaking the world, as tradition and modernity clash headlong, and as refugees — fleeing war or poverty or hopelessness — try to make their way to safer ground. His compelling new novel, “Exit West,” is no exception, recounting the story of the migrants Saeed and Nadia, who leave an unnamed country in the midst of a civil war and journey to Greece, England and eventually the United States in an effort to invent new lives for themselves.''....By mixing the real and the surreal, and using old fairy-tale magic, Hamid has created a fictional universe that captures the global perils percolating beneath today’s headlines, while at the same time painting an unnervingly dystopian portrait of what might lie down the roa
A masterpiece of humanity and restraint, it is an antidote to the cruelty of a present in which those who leave the places of their birth seeking a better life are routinely demonized, imprisoned or left to die. But at the novel’s core is something more fundamental than the whims of politics – an exploration of human needs so universal, they elevate Exit West from a product of our time to something timeless...There’s a lightness to the author’s lyricism, his every sentence fit to be whispered. ..... It’s a gorgeous, simple style, the sentences long and winding, and by the end of the book it’s impossible to imagine Exit West could have been written any other way.
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In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly as war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0735212171, Hardcover)

From the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, a love story that unfolds in a world being irrevocably transformed by migration.
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, thrust into 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 violence and the threat of violence escalate, 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 is an epic compressed into a slender page-turner—both completely of our time and for all time, Mohsin Hamid’s most ambitious and electrifying novel yet.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 27 Aug 2016 15:30:55 -0400)

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