This novel simply operates on another plane. Mohsin Hamid’s urgent, elegant EXIT WEST manages to be both timely and timeless: a fierce indictment and a subtle literary masterpiece.
EXIT WEST illuminates the rise of militarized dissent and the dissolution of a country in tandem with the gentle ebb and flow of the love of one couple. Nadia and Saeed live in a country that remains unnamed, but is clearly in the Middle East, close to current day. Hamid does this beautifully and expertly throughout: leaving so much subtle and nameless, but infusing it with such recognizable truth that readers fill in the blanks, draw their own conclusions, and experience the scope of its profundity.
In Saeed and Nadia’s hometown, tensions are rising, as militants and tradition clash with daily life --- yet Hamid emphasizes that within poverty and strife, these are human beings in the 21st century. There are no savages here, except those who have been created by circumstance and hate. Nadia browses social media on her smartphone and rides a motorcycle while beneath her veil; they use a pot delivery service and ingest psychedelic mushrooms at the conclusion of an early date. He is more reserved and wants to see himself as a certain, gentle, stable man. She knows what it means to protect herself. They fit together almost uneasily, bonded by genuine affection and common ground despite being conscious that times of severe stress can cause companionship to feel something like love.
"This novel simply operates on another plane. Mohsin Hamid’s urgent, elegant EXIT WEST manages to be both timely and timeless: a fierce indictment and a subtle literary masterpiece."
As tensions mount aggressively higher and tragedy becomes no longer a distant thing, Saeed and Nadia begin to hear rumors of doors. Hamid evokes these doors in a manner resonant with Colson Whitehead’s innovative railroad. Rather than mess with the jagged details of migration, Hamid’s doors appear quietly, permit you through for a price and a promise of secrecy, then spit you out somewhere you can only pray is safer than from where you came. You can never know where the next door will appear. You can never know where it will take you. You can never return through the same door.
As Nadia and Saeed venture through door after door, carrying nearly nothing except each other, their journey leads them to new experiences and new understandings of who they are. Meanwhile, around the world, Hamid hints at the narratives of other migrants and refugees who have taken steps through similar doors. Though this story belongs to Saeed and Nadia, it is never only theirs, and the others exist simultaneously, no two the same.
Hamid’s sentences are as delicately strung and precious as pearls, as sharp, bright and fraught as the stars --- an interest of both Nadia and Saeed, at least in times when they have a moment to consider them. Hamid’s voice is muted but charged, rendering this a significantly unique read. He evokes character so clearly and pointedly with only a few words, weaving desire, queerness, poverty and identity through his narrative, that the result is a collection of characters and motivations that constantly feel authentic and current, even though their experiences may be foreign to his more privileged readers, like many of us.
Hamid gives voice to refugees, recognizing them before they had to seek refuge and almost never naming them as such. He breathes exquisite life into what, in many ways, has been reduced to “a contentious issue,” and to call the result heartbreaking and moving feels almost trite. EXIT WEST is an authentic story of identity, placelessness, love and loss, and is undoubtedly a timeless must read.
Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on March 17, 2017
- Publication Date: March 7, 2017
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books
- ISBN-10: 0735212171
- ISBN-13: 9780735212176