Written by Mohsin Hamid
Published by Riverhead, March 7, 2017
My star rating: 4.5 stars
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 is a book that, when first released, everyone was talking about how powerful it was. I thought to myself, “It’s only 240 pages! How could it be that powerful?” Well – it just is! I didn’t look into this one a whole lot before going into it. All I knew was that it was a story of two people living in a place on the brink of war, who needed to leave before they were killed. But the impact that this tiny book was able to hold, and the amount of space and time it was able to cover, is really quite astonishing! We are never really told in which city/country this takes place, or even the timeline for that matter, but it runs parallel to what’s been happening in the world for quite some time and it was very easy to imagine this happening in the here and now
As the book begins, we meet Nadia and Saeed, as they first made contact and build a relationship. It was such a beautiful beginning! They were young and trying to find their place in the world, so at the time when they met it was as if they were trying to also see if they could find that place together. Then after a time, unrest comes, and they’re forced to make some painful decisions. And while they’re making these decisions, we get vivid descriptions of how their country is falling and how the citizens react. It was gut wrenching and barbaric, while at the same time filled with hope. The descriptions were just so detailed and awful, it played like a news reel in my mind, making the scenes all the more terrible.
When they finally decide they must flee in order to live, we follow their journey as they take chances with guards who promise them safe passage to a new place. They never know where they will end up, or if they can even trust the person offering them a way out. This book covers a few different countries actually and all of these experiences are different. Some they feel more safe, some they feel threatened, some they work to build a home, and some don’t feel like home at all. There were so many layers to this portion of the story as we heard of how they adjusted and found comfort, and also how the country they were trying to run to adjusted and treated them as refugees.
There was also a hint of magical realism in there but it was very slight and well done. When Nadia and Saeed would have to flee to a new country, they would talk about the “open and closed doors” that you had to go there to travel. Instead of mentioning ships, vehicles, or any other mode of transportation, it was always just a door you had to go through, pitch black, and unyielding to any indication of what could be on the other side. This was a very interesting spin to the story that I found so unique!
Another strong theme was loyalty and obligation. Both to people (as in relationships), your own identity, and your country. When so much was changing they had to adjust what and who they wanted to stay loyal to. This also goes hand in hand with knowing when to let go.
There wasn’t much dialogue either which, in the beginning, I thought would have taken away from my emotional attachment. However it was as if this story was being told to me by someone who was with these characters every step of the way and could not only describe their conversation, but could describe a bigger picture than even the characters themselves could see. It was so well written and beautiful.
I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy this book and I was glad that it went above my expectations! It’s definitely a difficult read as their lives and experiences were nothing close to easy, but it was an emotionally impactful read about humanity that I was craving. I highly recommend this one!
Until next time, happy reading!