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Exit West: A Novel Paperback – February 27, 2018
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10 BEST BOOKS OF 2017, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
FINALIST FOR THE 2017 MAN BOOKER PRIZE, THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS, and THE KIRKUS AWARD
“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
About the Author
- Publisher : Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (February 27, 2018)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0735212201
- ISBN-13 : 978-0735212206
- Lexile measure : NC1660L
- Item Weight : 8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.12 x 0.66 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #10,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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Top reviews from the United States
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The brilliant bit of magical realism that Hamid creates are teleportation doors that transport individuals from one country to another. As potential migrants hear about these doors, they become more difficult to escape through, guarded by the power structures. The more desirous the location, the harder it becomes to escape. The story of the refugee experience is brilliantly captured as the two lovers wind up in an upscale mansion in London overtaken by other refugees, many from Africa, along with their sojourn to Northern CA in Marin County. We come to see the characters undergo the pain and struggle of dislocation from friends, family and familiar surroundings while struggling to survive in foreign places where they are generally unwelcome. Each of them copes with the situation in different ways, creating tension in their relationship with each other.
This is an absolutely astonishing book of love and loss, hope and failure, hate and acceptance. It is rightly hailed as one of the best books of 2017 and should be on everyone's must read list. It will undoubtedly become one of the best books of the decade.
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.
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall
The novel begins with Saaeed meeting Nadia. Theirs is love at first sight. They are living in a war-strewn nation and the only way to escape is through 'doors', doors that come and doors that go, doors of light and doors of dark, real doors and metaphorical ones. As time goes by, the doors are getting harder to find and more precious to access since everyone wants to leave. The identity of their first nation is never revealed but it could be any impoverished and chaotic place where the rule of law no longer exists and the mighty bow to the sword.
Saaeed gives the impression, at first, that he is a liberated man, but it is Nadia, despite wearing a burka and dressing all in black, that is the real feminist. They find a door that leads them to Mykonos, a Greek Island. They stay for a while, even attaining their own room, but then decide to try a new door. Door after door - immigration from one vast and frightening locale to another, no door leading to peace and salvation, no door leading to safety and beauty. All doors have their risks and yet these two young people feel compelled to leave one place after another. Are they searching for something that is impossible to find or are they victims of a myth, a living allegory to Heraclitus's belief that one can never step into the same river twice.
I found this book compelling, a vast and deliberate myth of migration, such as the travels of certain birds, fish, and mammals. Some travel to reproduce while other travel to end their lives. There is an innate desire to travel in order to begin or end one's life. I also viewed it as an allegory of our time, a novel of the cruelty and inhumane aspects of any place one might land on this earth. Despite hope, despite desperation, neither of the protagonists really knew what they wanted or what they were looking for.
There is certainly the adventure of youth, the desire to escape cruelty and have one's basic needs met but there is more than that. And what that more consists of is the basis question of this novel. Is it love? Is it beauty? Is it peace? Is it freedom? For every reader, there will be a different answer. My initial thoughts are that the answer rests with knowledge, that through knowledge we gain experience, and from experience, we gain wisdom.
As Mr. Dylan so articulately states at the end of his poem/song when he asks his son what he'll do no, he is answered by this refrain:
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner's fact is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breath it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin'
But I'll know my song well before I start singin'
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall
Top reviews from other countries
The trouble with this book, for me, is the plot. The concept is an interesting one - by some sort of unexplained magic, portals start opening randomly all over the world between different places. This of course creates some serious migration issues, as the poor and desperate can suddenly access wealthier countries in a safe, easy way. Most of the story revolves around Saeed and Nadia, a young couple in an unnamed war-town city (presumably from the context in either Syria or Iraq). It charts their life in the city as it descends into chaos, then their escape to Europe through a magical portal, and their lives afterwards.
Both Saeed and Nadia are interesting characters, who were likeable. I didn't feel a very powerful connection with either of them, but I did like them. The first part of the book, describing their relationship developing against the backdrop of a city falling prey to war and violence, was the strongest. The descriptions of life for ordinary people when a developed city becomes a battlefield were extremely well done and moving.
For me, the concept of the doors and the point where Nadia and Saeed went through the door was where the book became less strong. I liked the authenticity of the writing in the first part, but as soon as we got to the teleporting portals that was lost. The descriptions of life in the post-portal world were believable, but the story never regained its momentum after that. I wasn't sure what point was being made - I felt like there must be some profound metaphor underlying the text that I was too dim to see.
Hamid missed an opportunity here. He could have taken his sympathetic Middle Eastern couple and given them a realistic journey to Europe - people smugglers, sinking boats, nations putting up fences etc. I am certain he would have done it in a very believable and hard hitting way that might have given us more insight into the horrible plight of people trying to access Europe that way and all the dangers they face. Giving characters the chance to just open a door and walk through to a safe European country feels like dodging the harsh reality.
Overall it was a well written book that I enjoyed reading but I don't think it will stick in my memory. If anything, I feel puzzled by it. I'll certainly read more of his books, but this one needed a stronger plot structure.
Hamid has deliberately avoided the obvious route of encapsulating the refugee experience, that of escape and journey. Instead he has chosen to focus on the state of displacement, of arrival, of the sense of detachment, unfamiliarity, intolerance and unacceptance.
The lives of Nadia and Saeed are enmeshed so tightly as they embark on their reluctant escape from a war torn, violent unnamed Middle Eastern city. But their journey is through a medium of doors...portals to destinations.
From the refugee camps of Mykonos to a bizzare, Dystopian almost Orwellian London - divided into Dark London (migrant and refugee) and Light London, purpose built satellite refugee encampments, and on to a new world on San Francisco's Pacific coast.
Hamid reveals much of the psychological impact displacement, loss of home and family, uncertainty and the need for companionship the refugee experience must entail. But he focuses primarily on the relationship, the strain such displacement places on the seemingly unbreakable bonds between people.
At times a little disjointed, at times a little confusing, but overall a challenging and different insight into a troubled world and the displaced millions that have been forced to choose to inhabit it.
Despite feeling a little lost at first, trying to locate the events, I liked that this is not about a journey travelling across geographical areas, but through the lives of people.
It took me a few (confused) pages to work out the move to anticipated events but I would definitely recommend Exit West as a thought-provoking read to anyone interested in life stories.
The pathos of lives that come together during a crisis and cling on for different reasons, become intimate even and the subsequently disengagement of those unnaturally constructed ties are presented in a way that the reader empathisers with the two main characters and is saddened by the result whilst realising that it is the only possible outcome.
The chaos in London, the tension between established communities and the other as well as between those communities within the other, is very relevant to the times we live in.
The four stars instead of five is because I was not certain about the flow of the story to the end.