Review 1325: Exit West

Cover for Exit WestIt’s difficult to describe Exit West. Part embedded in a slightly futurist reality, a small part speculative, part romantic, the novel is mostly a parable. Those of you who know me, know I don’t really like parables and I seldom appreciate magical realism, so this probably wasn’t the best choice for me, but I read it for my Man Booker Prize project.

Saeed meets Nadia in class as their unnamed city succumbs to war. They secretly see each other while a war goes on between religious fundamentalists and the government. As the situation deteriorates, Saeed’s mother is killed.

Saeed and Nadia hear rumors about doorways that can take refugees to other parts of the world, and we take a few side trips from their stories to witness people emerging in other countries. In some countries, the doors are guarded to keep the refugees safe. In others, the governments are trying to keep refugees out.

Saeed and Nadia decide to leave, but they cannot convince Saeed’s father to go with them. They eventually go, emerging first in Mykonos, where they live in a refugee camp, then in London, and finally in Marin County. Everywhere they go, they join swarms of refugees.

Hamid isn’t as interested in the grueling journeys of refugees as he is in the psychological effects of their journeys. Quiet, reflective Saeed has more difficulty adjusting than does the more adventurous Nadia.

Because this is more of a parable, though, the two main characters are mostly ciphers. We don’t really get to know them or care that much about them. Hamid’s lightning glimpses of other people’s lives open up the novel a little bit. It’s a technique similar to that used by David Mitchell, but in this novel it doesn’t work as well. Sometimes these glimpses seem to have little point, although most of them are linked to the doorways.

Aside from the timeliness of this novel (which I’m guessing is what has made it so popular especially with predictions about climate refugees to add to our current economic refugees and those fleeing violence), this novel was interesting but not altogether successful.

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6 thoughts on “Review 1325: Exit West

  1. Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus March 11, 2019 / 11:33 am

    I have heard both positive and negative opinions on this book, and I do not know what to think. It is still very strange to me that Mohsin Hamid wrote a book with a science-fiction element. I never thought that would happen. I understand why he’s gone for the topic of refugees, but I am not altogether convinced with the overall premise to pick up this book. Also, I am not surprised that readers will not care about Hamid’s characters in this book. His debut was all about unlikeable characters.

    • whatmeread March 11, 2019 / 1:21 pm

      Admittedly, the science fiction element is a very slight part of this novel. I would not say that the characters in this novel are unlikable. More unknowable.

  2. Helen March 11, 2019 / 3:55 pm

    This does sound interesting and very relevant, but I don’t think I would enjoy it. I’m not a fan of parables either and although I don’t always need to like the characters, I do need to be able to know and care about them.

    • whatmeread March 11, 2019 / 3:56 pm

      Yes, those were my problems, too.

  3. Ruthiella March 12, 2019 / 1:56 am

    I’ve read three of Hamid’s books (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and this one) and I have to confess his writing style does not work for me. On the plus side, they read quickly.

    I read this title because it was short listed for the Tournament of Books last year. It got a lot of love from other readers and I think I can understand the appeal, but it I also found it too allegorical for my tastes.

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