Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

“When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope.”

This was my first Mohsin Hamid, shortly followed by The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which I think in all honesty I preferred more, or at least it’s stayed with me longer and stronger. I read this one back in May, before it’s shortlisting and initially thought “woah five stars, I hope Nadia & Saeed stay with me for a long time”. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Flipping through the novel, pieces are coming back slowly but not as strongly as I had hoped. Perhaps this is a good thing, it makes me want to re-live the journey…

Exit West is fast paced, magical and a little bit soul-destroying. It follows the story of two young lovers Nadia and Saeed, who meet when their country is on the brink of war. The story progresses as doors are found throughout the city; doors which take people to the western world. A whimsical kind of take on the refugee crisis, Hamid has concocted a poignant work of fiction, but is it man-booker worthy…?

“And so their memories took on potential, which is of course how our greatest nostalgias are born.”

I really enjoyed Hamid’s literal take on the doors. The novel is highly fable-esque and dreamy at times, yet doesn’t shy away from the darker side of love; love for one’s country, oneself, each other.  I read it quickly in 1-2 sittings, it’s bittersweet, heartbreaking and all too human. I think I nearly cried at the time. It all seemed so fleeting too: time, life, the doors opening and closing.

“What do you think happens when you die?”
Nadia asked him.
“You mean the afterlife?”
“No, not after. When. In the moment. Do things just go black, like a phone screen turning off? Or do you slip into something strange in the middle, like when you’re falling asleep, and you’re both here and there?”

Definitely a very current novel in today’s world, I can’t help but think it seemed a bit (forgive me) ‘young-adultish’ for the Man Booker. It’s a quick read, Hamid’s prose is wonderful and while his themes are important, I’m not sure how innovative (besides the doors) this one really is. Upon it’s disappearing from my mind, I’ve given it a 3.5 star rating, but it’s one can see myself picking up again when I feel I need a palate cleanser.

Overall: a highly addictive read, a timely love story, for fans of Hamid & those who like to dabble in speculative fiction. Also, if you enjoyed Home Fire you will probably enjoy this one.

For now my reader chums,

do svidaniya x

Advertisements

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid

“It is odd how the character of a public space changes when it is empty; the abandoned amusement park, the shuttered opera house, the vacant hotel: in films these often feature as backdrops for events intended to frighten […] but I would suggest that it is instead our solitude that most disturbs us, the fact that we are all but alone despite being in the heart of a city.”

This was my first Mohsin Hamid (as I write this I’ve recently finished his latest Exit West) and I was simply blown away. A quiet kind of awe. His words like an old friend returning after all these years. For me, The Reluctant Fundamentalist was brimming with echoes of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, and images of the latter part of last years Man Booker International Winner, The Vegetarian. These were further enriched only days after reading (and loving) Girl, Interrupted. 

“It was a beautiful spot to commit suicide, perhaps to run out from between the snow-dusted conifers, to push off from the granite and sail through the air, gazing across at the far bank of the mighty river, where a small house exhaled smoke from it’s chimney, before crashing into the icy current below.”

I’m always going to be a sucker for themes of identity in books and The Reluctant Fundamentalist has identity written all over it. Hamid asks by what/how do we define ourselves; be it culture, loved ones, history, or by our physical traits. There is an emphasis on the body and it’s function – becoming merely just a vessel for the spirit – Erica’s loss of self, her eating disorder and her identity fatally interwoven with Chris. She surrounds herself with people in order to escape herself. Changez too struggles with his identity, living as a Pakistani within America, his conflicted ideals between each country’s way of life which resolve in yet another country, The Philippines where he can pass for a white man and his beard is not disabling as in a post 9/11 America.

I found the contrast between Changez and Erica striking; their search for identity, their own brokenness owing to a loss of self. Erica’s physical loss; her soul-mate, her ghostly pallor and gauntness after denying the vessel her spirit is housed in sustenance and Changez – broken due to America’s nostalgia and assumptions of ethnicity.

“I wondered how it was that America was able to wreak such havoc in the world – orchestrating an entire war in Afghanistan, say, and legitimizing through its actions the invasion of the weaker states by more powerful ones, which India was now proposing to do to Pakistan – with so few apparent consequences at home.”

The scene setting in this novel is fantastic and exquisite. Hamid’s writing is some of the most eloquent I’ve come across and his use of narrative style is just plain hypnotizing. Some have also mentioned a thriller element to this novel and his other works which I can attest to. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, while not classified as a thriller, has a moodiness that pervades its’ atmosphere leaving you a little on edge and keeps you turning the pages. At once I attributed this to the nature of the of the story; the narrator dining outdoors as it night falls with an unnamed American stranger, however, after reading Exit West it is purely Hamid’s writing that conveys this subtle unease.

“Observe the sparks that fly from the coals, angry and red, as our cook fans the flames. It is quite a beautiful sight, you must admit, and with it will soon come – there, do you smell it? – the most mouthwatering of aromas.”

Hamid tackles some heavy themes head on; politics, identity, suicide and I may be a little biased since Changez shares a view of world politics not to dissimilar to my own.  And a character like Erica even if only secondary to many other themes is always going to be a winner for me. 5 stars for me.