I was so looking forward to this book having loved The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Moth Smoke (both capturing the feelings of apprehension of the time in which it was written) Exit West was a bit of a disappointment. Whilst the content of its 227 pages is not one we should ignore it just didn’t work for me.
Hamid’s protagonists – Saeed and Nadia – flee conflict in their home country and embark on a journey to Marin via Mykonos, London and San Francisco. The pair don’t know where they are heading and have no ultimate destination in mind but rather follow any ‘door’ that is open that isn’t a ‘mousetrap‘ leading them back to the sort of conflict they have just fled. Initially, this starts as a love story between Saeed and Nadia however, this love develops further away from passion and into one more of an understanding as the pair struggle to fit into their new surroundings. In a way, this unexpected turn of events is like The Reluctant Fundamentalist in that Hamid doesn’t play to the rhetoric – I can never predict where his stories go.
The couple initially flee to Mykonos where they live in a Refugee camp anxious to find an open ‘door’ into a new country as they know they cannot stay in the camp with finances running incredibly low. The sense of tension and urgency is the most here. They successfully run through an open door – with the help of a woman who Nadia seems to have a deep connection with – to London. Hamid, here, chooses to describe the act of social nativists pushing against the increase in immigration initially with violence and then a quiet acceptance. All the while Nadine doesn’t remove her ‘black robe‘ originally tactically worn in her home country to garner respect but now in the new countries in which she settles is seen as a mark of defiance. The juxtaposition of the perception of the black robe is neatly compared to how Saeed grows closer to his people from his home country.
Hamid peppers the progress of this couple’s flight with stories of other more established migrants in other countries. This didnt really add much to the story in my opinion and I was often confused as to its inclusion.
Perhaps one of the most interesting themes was a loss of identity with Saeed getting closer to those from his country and Nadia recoiling from it. The rootlessness of the pair emphasises the lack of social inclusion and relationship development between the two with the other migrants they encounter – Nadia fascinated by them and Saeed almost ‘tribal‘ in his reclusion.
Unfortunately, Hamid fails to develop his protagonists into anything more than a metaphor to wield his story on immigration around. This just doesn’t work as the story around the refugees is not developed as it could be – fragmented story and fragmented characters. Such a shame as Nadia seems to be a voracious woman whose views and beliefs are ones I would have wanted to read more about.
Overall, a poignant novel in its message and insight into the lives of refugees fleeing conflict however, there are other stories out there that – in my opinion – treats this in a less sporadic manner (for example: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen).
Have any of you read this book? If so, I would love to know what you thought of it?
If you would like to win the exclusive signed first edition book that I have read head on over to my Instagram for details on how to enter!
Recommended for: fans of Hamid’s work.
Favourite quotes: “when we migrate, we murder our lives from those we leave behind”
Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!