Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

About Exit Westexitwest

Hardcover: 231 pages
Published: March 2017 by Riverhead
Source: Library via Overdrive

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Goodreads DescriptionIn 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.

My Review

We are all migrants through time.

Those six words perfectly sum up not just Exit West, but humanity today. What are we, but migrants through time?

I don’t even really know what to tell you about Exit West . It’s hard to describe. In some ways, it’s a love story. In others, a social commentary. In yet other ways still it’s a travelogue. But I think that’s the point – Exit West is one of those rare stories that doesn’t have to fit in a box, that shouldn’t fit in a box. It’s a powerful and heartbreaking novel about the power of love and loss and identity.

Exit West follows a young couple, Nadia and Saeed, as they flee their home country in search of a better life. They’re lovers, and friends, and family. The country they flee is never identified, but that isn’t important – what’s important is their home has become a place where it is no longer safe to live. And so they run, through a metaphorical door, to another country and another life. Their journey takes them first to Greece, then to London, and then to the United States. Along the way they grow and change, and their relationship does as well. In their migration, they become truer versions of themselves.

I’ll be flat out honest and admit Exit West is not the sort of book I typically enjoy. Immigrant fiction just hasn’t been something that speaks to me. I talked about this some in my review of Behold the Dreamers, but it generally comes down to the fact that I just can’t relate to the characters. And for me, not being able to relate to the characters is a huge problem. I’m a character reader.

But Exit West grabbed me, and wouldn’t let me go. There’s something incredibly powerful in Nadia and Saeed, and in Hamid’s writing. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that I’ve never left my home for a better life, that I’ve never felt oppressed or threatened or unsafe. I was right there with them, going through those doors, carving out a new way of life. I hurt for them, and I hurt for the millions of people around the world experiencing their story every day. I mourned their losses, and celebrated their victories. And so Mohsin Hamid has done what I thought was impossible – he has made me care about a population I have absolutely nothing in common with. And I thank him for it.

Exit West is short, but don’t mistake it for quick. It took me a week to read, and it’s only a little over 200 pages. The writing isn’t intense, but the story is, and Hamid is the kind of writer who gets the most out of the words he uses. Exit West has been Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize (alongside Lincoln in the Bardo and The Underground Railroad, among others). Will it win? We’ll see, but in my mind, it definitely deserves to be shortlisted.

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