Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: Exit West

Saeed and Nadia meet in class and soon they are smitten with each other. But their situation is more difficult than most young people in love: it's difficult to see your girlfriend or boyfriend when traveling through the city involves checkpoints and rubble and you may never make it to your destination. There have been whispers in their city about mysterious doors that can take you to somewhere safe, as long as you are willing to pay. The offices where Saeed and Nadia work are soon closed and Saeed's mother is killed while searching for a lost earring in her car. They couple decides that they might not get another chance and make arrangements to walk through a door. But what awaits them on the other side?

This is an astonishing book that is so realistic, with just a touch of magic. The magical doors are never explained and only appear in the story in very specific moments. But the possibility of freedom that they provide changes everything for our protagonists. This story is not set in any specific country, but it's not difficult to imagine several places where Saeed and Nadia might reside.

"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."

When you start reading such a book, you might imagine that their story will be through the door from danger to safety. But it is not that easy. Life as a refugee is complicated and the young couple finds themselves unwelcome in many places. The heartbreak of this book comes from the relentlessness of the problems they face and people's willingness to ignore the danger, heartbreak, and uncertainty of those looking for a safe place to call home. It is also not limited to Nadia and Saeed, as we get brief looks into the lives of fates of others who go through the doors to make a better life or find a hostile reception on the other side.

Exit West feels incredibly timely as we see refugees flee their war-torn and impoverished countries. It will certainly make you consider how and why those of us who live in relative security might work to make space and opportunity for others. But perhaps the saddest thing is that it is also a timeless book: there have always been people forced from their homes, searching for a safe harbor.

Exit West
By Mohsin Hamid
Riverhead Books March 2017
231 pages
From the library


  1. I hope my library has this one because it sounds like a book I'd like; I recently finished reading A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea. What a powerful read. Thanks for recommending it! :)

    1. I'm so glad! I love hearing that someone read a book I reviewed. Let me know what you think of Exit West. :)

  2. When I first saw your review I wasn't sure I'd like it, the cover didn't do anything for me either, but wow, this sounds like such an interesting and perhaps melancholy read. I might want to read this!

    You always find such intriguing books "off the beaten path". Good for you; enjoy your books!

  3. I was intrigued by the description of this book, but am still not sure if I'm excited enough about it to pick it up. It sounds like it could be very moving, but it doesn't quite grab me - perhaps because it also sounds so sad.