Throughout the world, there are whispers of doors inexplicably changing- doors becoming portals to different places on Earth. This is the premise of Mohsin Hamid’s newest novel, Exit West, a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.
“Everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.”
These doors provide an escape opportunity for young couple Saeed and Nadia, who live in an unnamed city on the brink of war. For the first half of the novel, the couple fiercely tries to adapt to a rapidly changing city-turned-battleground. Eventually however, fate becomes unavoidable. The pair leave their home for a door that leads to a refugee camp in Mykonos. From there, the couple travels all around the world- from London to the Bay Area and beyond.
Michiko Kakutani, former New York Times chief book critic, described Hamid’s prose as “crystalline” and I could not agree more. Hamid’s sentences are long and winding- they feel like a fluid train of thought more than a concrete description. Every sentence has many facets- I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with as many commas) This only entrenches the feel of magical realism into the novel.
“Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us.”
However, while perhaps there are no doors that transport you to different countries in our world, Nadia and Saeed’s story is not a distant reality. According to the United Nations, 22.5 million people today are refugees displaced in foreign countries. Hamid’s story is not only beautifully written but also extremely relevant.
This is not the only parallel to our reality. Sentiments of nativism are on the rise throughout our world. In Exit West, Nadia and Saeed stay in London where mentions of racist, xenophobic, and occasionally violent protesters are common. These characters seem only too relevant when considering recent decisions such as Brexit.
Exit West draws attention to issues such as these in a way that is not confrontational or lecturing, instead appealing to a deeply emotional part of humanity. At times, the narrative even feels uncomfortably intimate, like an old diary you accidentally discover in your attic, written years before your birth. The result is a lyrical, nuanced novel that will have the reader thinking long after the last page is turned.