Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

exit west by mohsin hamid book review

The library copy of Exit West was finally available when I happened to swing by a couple of weeks ago, so I picked it up as I remembered that it was one of the shortlisted books for the Man Booker Prize in 2017.

Here is a full list of the shortlisted books:

  1. 4321 by Paul Auster (this is an intimidating book, I don’t know if I dare to read it)
  2. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (read – mixed feelings)
  3. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  4. Elmet by Fiona Mozley
  5. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (the winner) (read – mixed feelings)
  6. Autumn by Ali Smith (DNF – the Ali Smith writing style is not for me)

‘It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class—in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding—but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.’

I heard mixed reviews so I went into it with a lot of skepticism but I am happy I decided to read it. It was an enjoyable, quick and easy read and I would recommend it to everyone interested in reading about immigration, especially considering i.e. the recent immigration wave towards Europe.

In short, this book is about Saeed and Nadia, two young professionals from an unnamed country, where war is about to break out and thus people start fleeing towards the West.

What is unique about it is how this immigration takes place. This is what makes this so unique and interesting for me. So, apparently, when things start to get worse there are these doors which appear in random places which lead to random places all over the world. All you have to do is walk through one and there you go, you’ve escaped. (You’ve escaped but are you free?)

Why I find the idea of doors as escape routes so interesting? It is sort of like time travel, meaning that the time spent on that road to the destination country is shortened to mere seconds. The immigration journey which is time consuming, dangerous and tiring is taken out of the equation.

I saw so many mixed reviews about this book that I hesitated to pick it up for the longest time. Now that I did I am happy to say that I really enjoyed it. I also realized how much of what I'm reading is influenced by social media. In the future though I'll try to pick up more of the interesting sounding books, despite watching negative reviews, and form my own opinion about them. This book is a great one! I see why it was one of the shortlisted books for the Man Booker Prize in 2017… It is a book full of depth and everyone can find something valuable in it. I do agree with those saying that this is NOT a love story… I don't understand why it was marketed as such. Possibly to appeal to a larger audience. #exitwest #mohsinhamid #goodreads #instareads

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I was pondering why Mohsin chose to present the story this way and the only explanation I could find is that from the point of view of the Western world, this immigration wave was just like a door being opened at the borders through which suddenly a whole lot of people came through. And because it’s a door which was closed before, no one saw the migrants coming. But all of a sudden they were there. This was so unexpected that the chance of it eliciting inappropriate reactions was quite high.

‘The news in those days was full of war and migrants and nativists, and it was full of fracturing too, of regions pulling away from nations, and cities pulling away from hinterlands, and it seemed that as everyone was coming together everyone was also moving apart. Without borders nations appeared to be becoming somewhat illusory, and people were questioning what role they had to play.’

Because if the Western world would have seen that journey, laced with perils, desperation but also hopes and dreams, their reaction to this migrant wave might have been very different.

‘The fury of those nativists advocating wholesale slaughter was what struck Nadia most, and it struck her because it seemed so familiar, so much like the fury of the militants in her own city. She wondered whether she and Saeed had done anything by moving, whether the faces and buildings had changed but the basic reality of their predicament had not.’

Isn’t it ingenious? I think Exit West is laced with these thought-provoking ideas. It is more than just the love story of Nadia and Saeed. This book has to be read with more than the plot in mind. This is a book which will make you think and a book which will let you form your own ideas. I think I got a lot out of it and I will definitely read it again, just so I can discover other hidden meanings I might have overlooked the first time.

‘and when she went out it seemed to her that she too had migrated, that everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.’

I also think this book is read and understood differently, depending on whether one has only lived in their country of birth or not.

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