As stated in Goodreads:
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.
First I have to comment on Mohsin Hamid’s unbelievably beautiful, descriptive and unusual prose. He has a special way of painting a picture with words in a sing song way with paragraphs that are a single sentence, multiple phrases connected with commas. I found myself reading a lot of the book out loud to comprehend more deeply and to experience the exceptional use of language auditorily.
This is a story of love, strength and adventure with what I see as a touch of fantasy. In Exit West, Nadia, a mysterious, strong, hard working, single woman living on her own and Saeed, “an independent-minded, grown man, unmarried, with a decent post and a good education”, living with his parents met and developed a relationship. Violent times pushed them to seek safety and pursue a life of peace. They learn of mysterious doors people can walk through to escape the unrest in their own country and enter into a new, unknown environment. (For me, the doors are symbolic, they take the place of the physical journey as immigrants travel to a new country, so the focus can be on the emotion journey and the assimilation upon arrival.) We follow Nadia and Saeed though the doors as their relationship changes while they explore new places.
Author Mohsin Hamid uses his words to describe the action in the story but has a descriptive way of getting at the deeper meaning. In this excerpt we can visualize what happens but also can see the breaking down of a relationship.
“In the late afternoon, Saeed went to the top of the hill, and Nadia went to the top of the hill, and there they gazed out over the island, and out to sea, and he stood beside where she stood, and she stood beside where he stood, and the wind tugged and pushed at their hair, and they looked around at each other, but they did not see each other, for she went up before him, and he went up after her, and they were each at the crest of the hill only briefly, and at different times.”
Saeed’s and Nadia’s struggle is representative of many who have left their home looking for a new place to settle. Uprooting seems to test them in many ways, their ties to home, their faith, traditions and memories, their ability to assimilate and their commitment to each other. Hamid brings to light a discussion of who belongs; natives, migrants…are we all immigrants in a sense?
There is so much to discuss about the characters, the exquisite writing, the emotional and physical challenges of leaving one’s country and settling in a new place. I loved this novel…such a great choice for book club!
Mohsin Hamid is a Pakistani author best known for his novels Moth Smoke (2000), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013). His fiction has been translated into over 30 languages, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, featured on bestseller lists, and adapted for the cinema. His short stories have appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, and the Paris Review, and his essays in the Guardian, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books. Born in 1971, he has lived about half his life, on and off, in Lahore. He also spent part of his early childhood in California, attended Princeton and Harvard, and worked for a decade as a management consultant in New York and London, mostly part-time.
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