“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