Having read another of Hamids books; The Reluctant Fundamentalist, I had high hopes for Exit West, and I was not disappointed. This book had every bit the beautiful prose, if not more than Hamids previous work and I found the story even more compelling due to the fantasy elements interwoven with harsh reality.
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
- Exit West is one of those rare books which transports you. Not only did it do so mentally, it caught me off guard with it’s quietly beautiful prose. There are some sections which are so stunningly written that they are still with me and firmly establishes Hamid as one of my favourite contemporary writers.
“they would take turns to look up at objects whose light, often, had been emitted before any of these three viewers had been born – light from other centuries, only now reaching Earth. Saeed’s father called this time travel”
“in any case Nadia had taken one look at Saeed’s father and felt him like a father, for he was so gentle, and evoked in her a protective caring, as if for one’s own child, or for a puppy, or for a beautiful memory one knows has already commenced to fade.”
“But in his devotions was ever more devotion, and towards her it seemed there was ever less.”
- The setting – The novel begins in a deliberately unnamed country in which there is civil and political unrest. A reader is able to get a real understanding of the tensions the characters face and the all encompassing losses which are to come. I think this is so honest and heartbreakingly so, by reflecting this element of the immigrant experience; it shows the intense loss not only of loved ones but the loss of a homeland too.
- Even though the place Saeed and Nadia start off at is unnamed, it shows that a name isn’t important. This situation could happen anywhere and it is not the name which is important, but the people and the humanity. The desire for safety and to survive.
- The use of magic / fantasy – Peppered throughout the book are the mysterious doors, which lead to different countries. For Saeed and Nadia, as well as other refugees these are a lifeline, an escape from a dangerous situation in their home countries. To think of the volatile conditions in which refugees actually have to face in order to escape in reality, traversing the sea and often tragically passing away, the idea of these doors is especially poignant and striking.
- The love story – While there are certainly some tender moments between the protagonists Saeed and Nadia, it’s not overly sentimental or fluffy. It’s a very sweet, raw depiction of two young people, who have suffered and are forced to adapt to new and challenging surroundings. I believe it is also painfully realistic, relationships change over time and not everything can stay the same, especially in such drastic situations.
Have you read Exit West? If so, what did you think? If not, would you like to?
Would love to hear your thoughts!
Until next time,