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Exit West: A Novel Hardcover – March 7, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of March 2017: When Nadia and Saeed fall in love in a distant unnamed city, they are just like any other young couple. But soon bullets begin to fly, fighter jets streak the sky, and curfews fall. As the spell of violence spreads, they flee their country, leaving behind their loved ones. Early in Exit West, the author Mohsin Hamid explains that geography is destiny, and in the case of his two young lovers, geography dictates that they must leave. Hamid offers up a fantastical device to deliver his refugees to places: they pass through magic doors. Rather than unmooring the story from reality, this device, as well as a few other fantastical touches, makes the book more poignant and focused, pointing our attention to the emotions of exile rather than the mechanics. Surrounded by other refugees, Nadia and Saeed try to establish their places in the world, putting up different responses to their circumstances. The result is a novel that is personal, not pedantic, an intimate human story about an experience shared by countless people of the world, one that most Americans just witness on television. --Chris Schluep , The Amazon Book Review
“Hamid exploits fiction's capacity to elicit empathy and identification to imagine a better world. It is also a possible world. Exit West does not lead to utopia, but to a near future and the dim shapes of strangers that we can see through a distant doorway. All we have to do is step through it and meet them." --Viet Thanh Nguyen, The New York Times Book Review (cover)
“In spare, crystalline prose, Hamid conveys the experience of living in a city under siege with sharp, stabbing immediacy. He shows just how swiftly ordinary life — with all its banal rituals and routines — can morph into the defensive crouch of life in a war zone. … [and] how insidiously violence alters the calculus of daily life. … By mixing the real and the surreal, and using old fairy-tale magic, Hamid has created a fictional universe that captures the global perils percolating beneath today’s headlines.” ––Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“Lyrical and urgent, the globalist novel evokes the dreams and disillusionments that follow Saeed and Nadia….and peels away the dross of bigotry to expose the beauty of our common humanity.” —O, the Oprah Magazine
“A beautiful and very detailed look at what it means to be an immigrant…An incredible book.” –Sarah Jessica Parker on Read it Forward
“A little like the eerily significant Margaret Atwood novel, this love story amid the rubble of violence, uncertainty, and modernity feels at once otherworldly and all too real.” —New York Magazine’s The Strategist
"This is the best writing of Hamid's career… Readers will find themselves going back and savoring each paragraph several times before moving on. He's that good. … Breathtaking.” —NPR.org
“Nearly every page reflects the tangible impact of life during wartime—not just the blood and gunsmoke of daily bombardments, but the quieter collateral damage that seeps in. The true magic of [Exit West] is how it manages to render it all in a narrative so moving, audacious, and indelibly human.” –Entertainment Weekly, “A rating”
“Hamid rewrites the world as a place thoroughly, gorgeously, and permanently overrun by refugees and migrants. … But, still, he depicts the world as resolutely beautiful and, at its core, unchanged. The novel feels immediately canonical, so firm and unerring is Hamid’s understanding of our time and its most pressing questions.” —NewYorker.com
"No novel is really about the cliche called 'the human condition,' but good novels expose and interpret the particular condition of the humans in their charge, and this is what Hamid has achieved here. If in its physical and perilous immediacy Nadia and Saeed’s condition is alien to the mass of us, Exit West makes a final, certain declaration of affinity: 'We are all migrants through time.'” —Washington Post
“Skillful and panoramic from the outset... [A] meticulously crafted, ambitious story of many layers, many geopolitical realities, many lives and circumstances...Here is the world, he seems to be saying, the direction we’re hurtling in. How are we going to mitigate the damage we’ve done?” –The New York Review of Books
“Like the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but set in the real world. You’ll be hearing about it, so get into it now.” —TheSkimm
“Hamid graphically explores a fundamental and important ontological question: Is it possible for us to conceive of ourselves at all, except in juxtaposition to an “other”?... What is remarkable about Hamid’s narrative is that war is not, in fact, able to marginalize the “precious mundanity” of everyday life. Instead — and herein lies Hamid’s genius as a storyteller — the mundanity, the minor joys of life, like bringing flowers to a lover, smoking a joint, and looking at stars, compete with the horrors of war.” –Los Angeles Times
“In an era when powerful ruling groups — often in the minority — are gripped by a sense of religious and ethnic nativism, Mohsin offers these two, the millions they represent, and us, comfort: that plausible, desirable futures can be imagined, that new tribes may be formed, and that life will go on... If we are looking for the story of our time, one that can project a future that is both more bleak and more hopeful than that which we can yet envision, this novel is faultless.” –Boston Globe
“[A] slender treasure of a novel.” –NPR's Book Concierge
"Terrifying, hopeful, and all too relevant." —People Magazine
“It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… This book blew the top off my head. It’s at once terrifying and, in the end, oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman, New York Times Book Review
"If there is one book everyone should read ASAP, it is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West...Short, unsentimental, deeply intimate, and so very powerful." —Goop
“Spare and haunting, it’s magical realism meets the all-too-real.” –W Magazine
“Taut but haunting.” –Vanity Fair
"Powerfully evokes the violence and anxiety of lives lived ‘under the drone-crossed sky.’” —Time Magazine
“Hamid’s timely and spare new novel confronts the inevitability of mass global immigration, the unbroken cycle of violence and the indomitable human will to connect and love.” —Huffington Post
“A great romance that is also a story of refugees; this couldn’t be more timely.” —Flavorwire
“Exit West is a compelling read that will make you think about the times we are living in right now.” –PopSugar
"Beautiful." –The Rumpus
“Eerily prescient.” –Joyce Carol Oates, The New Yorker.com
“[A] thought experiment that pivots on the crucial figure of this century: the migrant… Hamid’s cautious, even fastidious prose makes the sudden flashes of social breakdown all the more affecting...Evading the lure of both the utopian and the dystopian, Exit West makes some rough early sketches of the world that must come if we (or is it ‘you’?) are to avoid walling out the rest of the human race.” –Financial Times
“Exit West operates on another plane… Beautiful and poetic even at its most devastating.” –Book Riot
“Raw, poetic, and frighteningly prescient.” —BBC.com
“Timely and resonant.” —Publisher's Weekly, Top 10 Most-Anticipated Literary Fiction of 2017
Top customer reviews
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First, Exit West is narrated by an omniscient narrator with a cool, detached voice. This adds to the sense that the events it describes are normal, unsurprising. It tells the story of Saeed and Nadia, who live in an unnamed city in a country on the brink of civil war.
Saeed has light stubble and Nadia wears a black robe, at a time when people could still choose what to wear, ‘so these choices meant something’. They become involved and in contrast to their appearances, it is Nadia who has broken with expectations by living independently, estranged from her family, while Saeed still lives at home.
At first they do the things new couples do. They text incessantly. They use recreational drugs by moonlight. They listen to music and negotiate their attitudes to sex. But the civil war takes first their freedom and then their safety. It seems like the only option is to escape.
Saeed and Nadia leave through one of the ‘doors’ by which refugees leave war zones, generally after handing over money to traffickers. The ‘doors’ open and close apparently randomly, offering an abrupt dislocation from one place to another. It suggests something magical, without human agency, while the reality is anything but.
While Saeed and Nadia’s home city is unnamed, the events described feel contemporary and real. However the places where they go after they leave, which are named, known locations, are subtly different, as if we’re looking at a possible future or an alternate reality. They are in social upheaval, they are more segregated, even less hopeful than they are now.
Then there are vignettes throughout the book interrupting the main narrative, showing immigrants and refugees in other regions suddenly appearing through doors, as if to remind us that this is happening everywhere, all the time.
Saeed and Nadia are well realised characters, at once unique and recognisable. As they leave their home the narrative fragments and their stories become less absorbing. It is as if in becoming refugees, whose main preoccupation is survival, whose choices are circumscribed, they have less time to be psychologically complex and interesting, not only to a reader but perhaps to themselves.
So while the story didn’t engage me throughout the book, the ideas did, and still do. Exit West challenges you to think in new ways about a familiar issue, to question what you understand when you see generic terms like refugee or migrant applied to millions of individuals, who each has their home, their emotional life, their door, and has to make the decision to take that chance, or not, while they can.
I received a copy of Exit West from the publisher via Netgalley.
To be fair, the book made me think. There were several lines in the text that were beautifully written and thought-provoking. The descriptions of life in a war torn country before they discovered the doors were empathetic making me feel as if I was there. I enjoyed the budding relationship between Saeed and Nadia. For me, this first part of the story felt like an insider's peek at the people behind, suffering, and involved in the real life war stories we hear in the news. For this reason, I appreciate the author's tale.
Then came the doors and the escape - gripping to read. But then, my expectations and the actual story diverged. I was expecting to find the characters building a new, happier life. With time/space transporting doors, the possibilities of roads to travel are endless. Unfortunately, the author went down a less optimistic path in the book. I understand he was sending a message that while change may be necessary, It isn't always better or without cost. There were deep questions raised: How should immigrants and refugees be treated? What toll do survival and migration have on a person and their relationships? What part does religion play in a person's outlook on life? While these things are important to contemplate and discuss, it wasn't what I was expecting.
I would have given this book a higher rating because I appreciate books that make me think, but there were three things that really bothered me as a reader. First, there were many instances (especially toward the end) where the author had half page run-on sentences. These are hard to read and follow. Second, the author added in, from time to time, short tales of other people in other parts of the world experiencing things apart from the main characters. These vignettes were never tied back to the plot line or characters; they were superfluous. Finally, the last chapter jumps ahead 50 years and then just ends. There is no explanation of what happened during that half century. I found that disappointing and frustrating. The last few chapters and ending made me feel like the author didn't know where to take the story and just kind of gave up.
I am glad I read the book, and I think my book club will have many good things to discuss, but I'm not sure it is a book I will recommend to others.
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