Author(s): Mohsin Hamid
WINNER OF THE 2018 LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FOR FICTION and THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE
TEN BEST BOOKS OF 2017, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"A breathtaking novel... that] arrives at an urgent time." -NPR
"It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future... At once terrifying and ... oddly hopeful." -Ayelet Waldman, The New York Times Book Review
"Moving, audacious, and indelibly human." -Entertainment Weekly, "A" rating
A New York Times bestseller, the astonishingly visionary love story that imagines the forces that drive ordinary people from their homes into the uncertain embrace of new lands.
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 remarkable 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.
I have been a fan of Moshin Hamid’s writing since I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a clever look at a hostage situation through the conversation between the captive and the captor. His latest book, Exit West, has also made the Man Booker shortlist and I’m not surprised to see his work there. An observant writer of human nature, especially in situations of chaos or crisis, he cleverly weaves in ambiguities and humour, drawing you into the world of his characters without fuss. This was tellingly so in How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia - set in India it’s a remarkable cradle-to-grave story, rags-to-riches tale that wraps an impossible love obsession into the mix with candour and black humour. Hamid has the knack of taking you into the hearts and minds of his characters in a candid manner and lightly, yet precisely, making you aware of politics and contemporary societal issues. So I was anticipating more of this social realism. And Exit West is this, but also more. Set somewhere in the middle east, possibly Syria, we meet the young lovers Saeed and Nadia. Saeed works for an advertising firm, is moderately religious and lives with his parents. Nadia works at a bank, unusually lives alone in a small rooftop apartment, is not in the least religious but wears a full black robe (mostly so she is left alone and doesn’t draw attention to herself) and rides a motorcycle. As their relationship flourishes so too do the militants, gaining more control in the neighbourhoods where they live. People leave, others don’t return from holidays or work trips. After a short time, Saeed and Nadia find themselves out of work, watching their backs and keeping their heads down, obeying the new rules. After Saeed’s mother is killed by a stray bomb, they decide to leave their home country. So this a refugee story, yet it is not a story of the journey, but much more a story about being elsewhere. Curiously, Hamid uses an interesting magical realism element - the idea of doors: doors that start appearing and are portals to other places. They are black, very black doors, that one pays a ‘door agent’ a fee to be taken to and then walks through. During this transfer to the other side there is an element of being stunned, struggling through, but this is instantaneous. I found this aspect unusual, but intriguing, and I would be curious to know why Hamid chose this metaphor for the struggle of the journey, which we see and hear so much about in our media - but maybe this is precisely the reason. Nadia and Saeed find themselves in Mykonos and while the island is beautiful it is crowded and dangerous and they feel a need for something more. Next is London, squatting in an empty and grand house in a wealthy suburb along with other refugees from far and wide. Saeed feel himself more and more disconnected from his home country, and becomes more devout in his grief of leaving his father, family and friends. He finds it increasingly difficult to relate the other cultures, whereas Nadia is more open and curious and is accepted by the elders of the house as they try to organise themselves within the chaos, find enough food and keep the authorities and ‘native’ Britons at bay. The political relevance of Exit West is obvious, and Hamid is writing in the midst of growing intolerance, increasing numbers of refugees and the social fallout and uncertainty of Brexit. As Saeed is drawn increasingly to his own people and in particular a house where they are devoutly Muslim, it feels like this may be the end of the relationship under increasing strain in the struggle to survive and the couple’s different ways of coping with change. Yet Hamid doesn’t take the option of making Saeed an extremist or Nadia throwing off her own culture, which could have been a predictable conclusion. He takes them again through another black door, this time to America. The novel is primarily a story about the breakdown of borders, about the disintegration of nation-states as we know them. It’s also about the struggle to belong, to survive in chaos, and it is surprisingly hopeful.
Booker Shortlist 2017
Publisher's description. In an unnamed city swollen by refugees but not yet at war, two young people meet and fall in love. They pretend not to hear the sound of bombs getting closer every night. But one day soon they will have to escape this place, running for their lives, searching for their place in the world. Penguin
Mohsin Hamid writes regularly for The New York Times, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books, and is the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Discontent and its Civilisations. Born and mostly raised in Lahore, he has since lived between Lahore, London and New York.