“In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war…” writes Mohsin Hamid to hook and catch the reader into a tale that speaks volumes to the modern crises of immigration. Which, if we watch the news and follow President Trump’s twitter, is an issue one cannot shy away from.
Nadia and Saeed, the protagonists, are classmates at night business school in a city that is ambiguous to the reader, but it could be assumed it’s somewhere in the Middle East. Hamid paints a surreal picture of the banal platitudes of the everyday life a refugee may go through day-in and day-out when their city or country is on the brink of a civil war. Saeed and Nadia meet for coffee in the work cafeteria. They begin to spend more time together: going out to eat, smoking the occasional roach together and listening to music where, ironically, they find refuge.
While the world around Nadia and Saeed begins to worsen, tensions between the government and religious radicals is so thick one could cut it with a knife. The radicals have taken over the city killing anyone, who they felt broke the law, without mercy. “The executions moved in waves” Hamid writes. Then, when someone close to Saeed is killed, the reader is taken on this journey of magical realism. Rumors are flooding the streets that there are arcane “doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from the deathtrap of the country.”
The way in which Hamid captures the beautiful but complicated relationship between Nadia and Saeed is nothing short of amazing prose. He sucks the reader into the story and into the lives of these people in such a way that the reader will feel for them and want to help them, but is unable to do so.
The man that Nadia and Saeed meet, who kept his promise of taking them to one of these surreal doors to freedom, escorts them through their first door. When they step through it, they are on a Greek island surrounded by a myriad of refugees. They can travel the world in this way for a while before they decide on a place to live.This book is written in an orchestrated way, but is not afraid to hit the reader in the face with the realities of this scary world that a lot of people deal with daily.
This book “is breathtaking by one of the world’s most fascinating young writers, and it arrives at an urgent time,” wrote Michael Schaub, NPR Book Reviews. Exit West is a book that should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand — to the smallest inclinations — what it means to be a refugee and why they are needed in our country.