Hello everyone!! Today’s review has been one I’ve very much anticipated doing ever since I saw this book was coming out. I have to admit that this cover caught my eye the first time I saw it on Goodreads, and after reading the synopsis I knew I had to get my hands on it ASAP. And boy, this book did not disappoint at all in my opinion. The author of Exit West is the well-known Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid who wrote the famous The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which unfortunately, I have not read yet. But for now, let’s get into the review, shall we?
“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 the story of a couple of young lovers, Nadia and Saeed, who lives in a middle-eastern country which happens to be on the brink of civil war. Hamid decides to not name this country, but rather to let the location and name be as vague as possible, in a way of adding to the idea that “this could literally be anywhere in the real world where things like this happen all the time”. The story starts with the introduction of our main characters: Saeed, on the one hand, who is a very reliable and religious man that lives with his parents, and on the other hand, Nadia, who lives alone after her parents decide to cut ties with her because of her decision to be more independent. The story then unfollows when the two characters meet and decide to start seeing each other secretly in her apartment since Nadia lives by herself, and in this country it’s not a good thing for a woman to be seen in public with a man to whom she is not married. Yet, their relationship is hindered by the differences Nadia and Saeed have in terms of religion and by their country’s laws. But when civil war strikes, they are faced with the reality of a country that grows more and more violent and unstable, and the decision to find a way out of the hell they are living in. And this is where Hamid introduces his element of magical realism: secret doors that act as magical portals to different countries in the world. The rumor of these doors appearing suddenly in certain places starts spreading, and Nadia and Saeed decide that it’s their chance to finally be able to leave their homeland.
“for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind”
Imagine what it would be like if people suffering from civil war or dictatorships in their countries could actually cross a door and appear safely on the other side of it, in another part of the world? I think that what Hamid was trying to point out here is how easy things could actually be if we just set ourselves to help those who need help. The element of doors that one could easily cross to find oneself safe is not the image that we see everyday in the news though, where more and more people are dying fleeing unsuccessfully the horrors of their countries. And it is this magical realism element that makes this book so good. In between the story of our lovers, Nadie and Saeed, Hamid intertwines stories from all over the world, from different people opening up these portals and finding on the other side what they so desperetaly need: love, compassion, understanding, a better life.
Even though I went into this book with a totally different expectation of it, this book left me satisfied with the message that underlies in the story. It is true that this is not an action-packed book, we don’t have fight scenes, we don’t have much adventure going on, we merely follow the couple going through the portals in search for a chance at a better life, yet it is through the eyes of these two characters that we are almost forced to put ourselves in their shoes and experience what they are experiencing in their journey as refugees. At moments the story can be depressing and emotional, when we see how both of the main characters go through feelings of displacement -of not knowing what their place in the world is anymore-; we see Saeed missing his homeland, his parents, and feeling completely disconnected to Nadia and finding solace in his religion, and we see Nadia hurting because of the distance that now seems to exist between her and Saeed.
I don’t think this book is for everyone, and at the same time I would recommend this book to all of you, so that you could see a different point of view of an issue that so happens to be all over our news lately, and that keeps getting worse and worse. Hamid’s writing is dreamlike, enthralling and leaves you wanting for more from a novel that touches so many different emotions and important issues for us to discuss as human beings. Because just like Hamid says so in his book, we are all migrants through time.