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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
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Life in some places becomes unbearable. People have no normal life anymore. They look for an exit. We accompany a young modern couple in an unnamed Western Asian metropolis. It is near the sea, which would only apply to Karachi, but the conditions there are certainly not on the horror level described here. Maybe not yet?
Saeed and Nadia have only just met, are not yet married. He lives with his parents, she lives alone. They are both professionals in the modern world. Advertising and insurance. Both spend much of their time in cyber space. But the world collapses. Their employers shut down. The internet dies. She moves in with him and his father, after his mother is killed by a stray bullet. What can the future be? There is none. Exit is the only hope.
The author is a Pakistani who spent half of his life in the U.K. and US. His previous Reluctant Fundamentalist was a wonderful novel. A film version was unfortunately not quite adequate.
The chapters set in the dying city have a haunting, realistic beauty, though, of course, I do not truly have own knowledge of such a reality myself. One assumes that the author doesn't either. Later in the book I will begin to wonder if this realism is actually dystopia. Am I trapped by my own worst perceptions? Is Hamid playing with us?
The narration of the following movements to other places is abstaining from any pretense of realism. The author avoids the logistics of the refugee streams and business. That may be wise, due to the size of that issue. Adequate coverage would have blown this book out of proportion.
The couple first moves to a Greek island, which is clearly just a holding position, if not a dead end. Then onward to London. By now, the novel gives up on pretending realism and turns openly into dystopia. Immigrants pour in by the thousands, occupy buildings, fight with 'native' gangs. It reads a bit like a page from nationalist/populist propaganda against open doors. Miraculously, a workable approach seems to have been found for London. Mass settlements in the 'halo' of London, via food for work programs, a precarious temporary peace.
Our couple makes it out of there, to America, because conditions have stifled their relationship, which they hope to rebuild. They end up, as far as the story goes, in a shanty town above San Francisco.
We are all migrants through time.
At the outset, Exit West appears to be the tale of Nadia and Saeed, two middle-class young adults in Syria or Iraq who fall in love as the city they live in (Damascus? Aleppo? Baghdad? Mosul?) comes under attack from "militants" and soon falls to them. The promise Hamid sets up in these early chapters is that we'll learn about the experience of becoming a refugee and adjusting to life in a new country. But that's not what Hamid delivers. Instead, his tale veers off into silliness.
Using the clumsy metaphor of doors that open onto new lives, Hamid whisks Nadia and Saeed through a black door somewhere in their beleaguered city—and, miraculously, they find themselves on a sunny beach on the island of Mykonos, Greece. With this one swift diversion, Hamid has bypassed what has become one of the signature experiences of Middle Eastern refugees: the grueling and perilous journey from their native country to one of the gateways to Europe. Then he does it again, and again, and again. Several doors later, after a lengthy stay in an unrecognizable version of London, where "millions" of refugees have gathered and come under attack by nativist gangs and the British Army, they move on again, through another black door. The couple then end up in a shack on a mountaintop in Marin County, California, never having set foot in a car or on a ship, a railroad, or an airplane. Oh, and Native American traders show up nearby in Marin! (If you're ever in Marin County, I strongly suspect you'll have a hard time finding Native Americans of any occupation. However, there is a Native American Museum there.)
To compound the confusion, the story of Nadia and Saeed is unaccountably interrupted with pointless scenes involving people they never meet in cities they never visit: San Diego, Amsterdam, Marrakesh, Tijuana, and others. There is no discernible reason for these scenes, other than to make this slim volume just ever so slightly thicker.
Were Hamid's style compelling, I might be inclined to forgive some of these blunders. But it's not. Run-on sentences, some of them a page long or longer, interrupt the flow of the story.
Perhaps Mohsin Hamid was simply not the right person to write a novel about refugees. After all, though he was born in Lahore, Pakistan, he spent much of his childhood in the United States; his father was a university professor who was studying for a Ph.D. at Stanford. Hamid returned to the U.S. at age 18 to study at Princeton and Harvard Law School. This isn't exactly the profile of a Middle Eastern refugee, is it?
So what I CAN say, without spoiling anything, is that "Exit West" is an allegorical novel helping the reader imagine what it's like to be young and in love in an un-named, war-torn, Middle East country (imagine Syria). Saeed and Nadia are surrounded by death and destruction even as they go about their daily routines. Hamid puts it beautifully: "For one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does." As the danger intensifies, Saeed and Nadia must make the life and death decision that we know millions of people have had to make: to go or to stay.
It is very difficult (thankfully) for me to imagine what it would be like to live in such chaos, fearful that death, my own or someone's I love, could be imminent. What is it like to be a refuge, leaving all behind, going to a place where you are not wanted? Hamid describes it all vividly with his lusciously beautiful prose. He draws us to empathize with Saeed and Nadia, and to ask ourselves what we would do in such a situation.
The novel is relatively short and so intriguing that the pages fly, and the prose is so gorgeous it’s almost poetry. 4.5 stars
Most recent customer reviews
I think the story line could have been more developed
This book was wonderful and I marvel at Ward’s command of characterizations.Read more