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Exit West

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2017)
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

231 pages, Hardcover

First published March 7, 2017

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About the author

Mohsin Hamid

26 books3,654 followers
Mohsin Hamid is the author of four novels, Moth Smoke , The Reluctant Fundamentalist , How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia , and Exit West , and a book of essays, Discontent and Its Civilizations .

His writing has been featured on bestseller lists, adapted for the cinema, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, selected as winner or finalist of twenty awards, and translated into thirty-five languages.

Born in Lahore, he has spent about half his life there and much of the rest in London, New York, and California.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 15,159 reviews
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
531 reviews7,095 followers
August 8, 2017
I rarely ever do this, but I'm rating and reviewing this even though I haven't finished it. I just cannot continue. Exit West is one of the most bitterly disappointing and downright awful novels I have read in a long while.

The novel begins with Nadia and Saeed, a couple living in an unnamed Middle-Eastern city. This setting and story is what we come to expect from Hamid, who also wrote the flawed but admirable The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The city is crumbling around Nadia and Saeed, blackouts are frequent, the water supply is often cut and drones hover overhead at all times. But yet, despite these enormous setbacks and struggles, they live on. If the novel were just the couple and their fight to live in their city, then what a wonderful book it would have been. I truthfully absolutely loved these initial scenes. They are a fascinating study of a couple in wartime. But then Hamid fucks everything up.

Hamid, possessed by his own ego and the spirit of Salman Rushdie, decides that this perfectly serviceable novel needs something extra. A little bit of magic needed to be injected into the story. Literally. For some unknown reason, Hamid has these magical doors pop up all around the world. Doorways that lead you to anywhere in the world. You step into a door in the Middle East and suddenly you are on Mykonos. This concept sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't pinpoint it exactly. So I read on.

It is inevitable that our couple is shown to one of these doors and are whisked away from their city and their lives. The second they step foot into the magical door is when the novel goes from fairly good to absolute shit. Why did Hamid add this ridiculous conceit to this novel? Why would he sabotage himself like this? I tried to ignore all door nonsense, but then it happened again. Hamid completely abandoned his great story of a couple in wartime to focus on his stupid doors. And then it hit me. I knew where I had seen this concept before.

It's Monsters Inc.

This book is fucking Monsters Inc.

The moment I realised this I just could not continue. I had to end it. And thus we are here. I'd like to say that I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed but I am angry and disappointed. Hamid's ridiculous urge to write magical realism is possibly one of the most ill-fated attempts at cross-genre literature ever. It could have been so great if his editor had just said, hey Mohsin, you have a great novel here but all this door shit has to go. It's a shame. Think of what we could have had.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,921 reviews290k followers
May 20, 2017
“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

I thought this book was quietly brutal. And quietly beautiful, as well.

If you've come here looking for magical realism, I would advise against it. Exit West contains only the barest of fantastical elements - essentially, metaphorical doors or portals that symbolize the migrant experience. This is not explored in any depth and serves only to propel the characters from their unnamed homeland to Greece, then London, then America.

Exit West is really about the relationship between the young couple, Saeed and Nadia, and how their experiences as migrants in foreign countries affects who they are and what they need. Held together by a shared past, they try to cling to one another, even as they grow into very different people. It's subtle and exquisitely bittersweet.

The book starts in a country in the middle of political turmoil. The country is not named, but that is not really the point, for it could be any country in the middle of crisis. Any country that forces its people to try to seek out a better life elsewhere. When Saeed's mother is killed and the threat of violence becomes too much, Saeed and Nadia talk to a man who promises to get them out.

They are both irreparably changed by the move to new places that are at once both comforting and unwelcoming. I think the power of this book lies in the lack of manipulation and sentimentality. In many ways, it's just a love story between two vibrant, pot-smoking young people who are affected by forces beyond their control.

It is these kind of quietly moving stories that affect me most of all. Authors who try to create dramatic, tear-inducing scenes never move me emotionally, but those who craft scenes of gentle truth can totally rip my heart out. And that's exactly what happened here.

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Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,089 reviews7,950 followers
March 11, 2021
I want to shove this book into everyone's hands and say, "READ IT." Undoubtedly the best book I've read so far this year and one of the best I will probably read in 2017. Hamid's writing is lush and evocative and so, so beautiful. The story of immigration is incredibly important for today, but it's told in a timeless fashion; the magical realism is done so tastefully and imaginatively and works so well for the story. He probes into the minds of our two main characters, Nadia and Saeed, in such a way that you truly inhabit their experiences. It's a touching and powerful story that I think will be getting a lot of buzz this year, as it deserves.
Profile Image for Ariel.
301 reviews64.2k followers
May 26, 2017
Very fascinatingly, I think I would have liked this book more if I had never read the synopsis.

The synopsis makes it sound like we're going to have two lovers who are in a city that is becoming a war zone and then discover magical doors that lead them far away and it's hard but they have each other. That's definitely what happens... but it's also really not what happens. I'd say that's the first third of this book. If I were to give a synopsis it would be: Two people meet and because their city becomes a war zone they find themselves as refugees that aren't sure about their premature dependancy on each other. Do you see how that's the same but also really different?

Did I think this book was great? Yes. Mohsin Hamid is a great writer who had a great idea and really knows how to deliver subtle but powerful moments. His story of these refugees, and refugees from all over the world, actually exposed me to a new way of thinking. I think reading this book made me a better person. You know how people often say that they read books because they want to learn about new perspectives? This is it. This will teach you to empathize, to consider others more complexly.

And so I feel cheated in a way. Had I actually known that I was going to be reading about two people suffering immensely as they find themselves stranded around the world in a new relationship that they're not sure about rather than thinking I was reading about two lovers who are on a hard but whimsical tale I wouldn't have kept thinking "wait, this isn't what I thought... huh?!" while reading it.

That's the power of marketing. When I look at this book on my shelf now I'm just a little confused. I feel like I need to read it again with my expectations shifted.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,440 reviews29.4k followers
March 17, 2017
Sam, I have you to thank for this one.

"In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her."

So begins Mohsin Hamid's extraordinary new novel, Exit West . At once both sharply current and dreamily magical, this book is social commentary, fantasy, and an emotion-laded look at how we crave connection even in the most chaotic, the bleakest of times.

While reading this book, all I could think of was:

When Saeed and Nadia first meet in a night class, they both are intrigued with each other, but neither acts on it. In an unnamed country beset by impending civil war, pursuing a romantic relationship isn't high on either one's priority list. Nadia is fiercely independent, living alone, and not afraid of embracing her sensuality, while Saeed is more contemplative, quiet, and less sure of himself.

They first pursue a friendship, and then both begin to realize just how much they come to rely on each other, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. When the warring factions begin exerting their power over the country, enforcing curfews, restricting electricity, cutting phone signals and internet coverage, each worries about the other's safety, and their feelings for each other grow, if not quite into love for both, at least something stronger than friendship.

"Dramatic circumstances, such as those in which they and other new lovers in the city now found themselves, have a habit of creating dramatic emotions, and furthermore the curfew served to conjure up an effect similar to that of a long-distance relationship, and long-distance relationships are well known for their potential to heighten passion, at least for a while, just as fasting is well known to heighten one's appreciation for food."

As full-on violence and terror ebb and flow, and tragedy strikes, the two become even closer. They despair over their future, whether they will survive the war, and where it will leave them. More and more, they hear rumors of doors, doors which somehow can help people like them escape far away from the violence—although not without risk, and not without great cost. At first, the thought of leaving seems cowardly and wrong, but the more the violence escalates, they realize they have no choice. After much trepidation, they find a door and see where it leads.

At this point, Exit West 's plot becomes a little dreamier, but still equally present and powerful, as it not only examines the effects strife, stress, and constant fear and suspicion have on a relationship, but it's also a pointed look at the refugee experience, and how people in the same situation can treat each other.

This book worked for me on so many levels. At a time in our world where some wish to label all immigrants in a negative way, this is a stark reminder of why so many flee their countries, and how their humanity is often lost in the process. But beyond the social and philosophical commentary, this book is, at its heart, a story of relationships, of love, of loss, and the sacrifices we make for those we love.

"...he understood, at some level, that to love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you."

Hamid is an extraordinary writer. For as many quotes as I pulled from the book for this review, I found hundreds more. His prose is dazzling, his imagery at once sublime and gritty, and the emotions he generates from this story are genuine, not manipulated. This is a book that has touched me, one which has made me think and feel, one which I will remember and linger over.

For some, the fantastical elements of the plot may not work, but if you allow yourself to become fully immersed in the entire experience, hopefully you will savor it as I have. This is simply fantastic.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews319 followers
April 14, 2017
2.5 stars

What started out to be a gorgeously haunting look at life in a Middle East city at the brink of civil war turned ponderous and perplexing by the end of Mohsin Hamid's slim novel Exit West.

In an unnamed city in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (not unlike the similarly themed Guapa by Saleem Haddad), two young professionals (Saeed, a quiet, pious man who lives with his parents and works for an advertising firm specializing in billboards and bus placards; and Nadia, an enigmatic "black-robe" wearing, motorcycle riding, lone wolf of a woman who works at an insurance agency) cross paths while taking a class at a college. It's not immediately clear what the attraction is between the two (perhaps just the uncertainty of warring militants wreaking havoc on their respective neighborhoods and the government's iron-fisted response resulting in massive bloodshed and escalating body counts from combatants and civilians alike) but the two uneasily bond, navigating the imposed curfews, dodging the outbreaks of terroristic violence to provide companionship for each other. As the violence escalates, massive blackouts, food and water shortages ensue, and Saeed and Nadia are forced to stay away from their jobs and hole up in their apartments, caught in the crossfire between the insurgent militants and the government's bombing raids. As life in the city becomes increasingly untenable, they decide to flee for their lives.

And that's when the bottom falls out for me, when the hyperrealism of the couple's plight, so vividly and convincingly displayed by Hamid in the first half of the novel, takes a bizarre CS Lewis-ian turn toward unreality (in a way, reminiscent of Cora's flight north from the slave hunter in The Underground Railroad), using scattered, secret doors as portals for Saeed's and Nadia's means for escape.

I liked Hamid's idea, but his choice (in contrast to the extremely well-written set-up) just left me lost in the lurch. From that point (of taking a turn toward speculative fiction) onward, everything felt hastily written and not especially thought out well. Compounding matters is the very skimpy length (an additional 75 pages or so more could have afforded a much better explanation for those doors, and what happens beyond them). Things that I enjoyed about Hamid's writing style in the first half really started annoying me the more I became frustrated (the two biggest problems: the run-on, grammatically unsound sentences, and the dearth of dialogue between characters.)

I'm glad I read this novel, as its subject matter is timely and salient, and allowed me to finally be acquainted with Mr. Hamid's work, but ultimately, Exit West didn't quite work for me. More patient readers than I am might be able to abide his flights of fancy here, but I was left cold by this strange take on the refugee experience.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,687 reviews14k followers
February 7, 2017
4+. We need more books like this, or no, maybe that's wrong, what we need are more readers of books like this. The country it takes place is unnamed, but one part makes it sound as if it is in Asia somewhere. A country under siege by opposing parties, a country at war with itself, a dangerous place, how so many in this world live in constant danger, constant war.

Saeed and Nadia meet, forge a relationship, when their country erupts in violence, it becomes unlivable. They seek ways to leave, hire a coyote who is able to find doors, some literal but in this case fantastical, pay him, try to convince Saeed's father to come with, the only viable parent between the two, but he refuses, His dead wife is buried here, and this is his home. Eventually they will step through more doors, after each location losing a bit more of themselves. Trying to find a place where they feel they can exist. Refugees among many, they are not wanted, tarred and judged by those among them who are making trouble. All painted with the same brush. From a deserted mansion, to a tent city to the coast of California, they will travel, two among many, all seeking the same thing, continent to continent, all fleeing their own countries.

Although the description describes this as a bittersweet love story, it is not written emotionally, rather narrated by a omnipresent presence, in a rather matter of fact way. I liked this and didn't, the feelings and things described often seemed at a distance. The situation though is universal, important and timely and so it could be said that telling the story this way lets the reader form his or her own opinions. The magical realism, is used well, fleetingly and adds to the the main message of the story, the refugees seeming to come from everywhere, so many war torn countries.

The ending, I loved, as Goldilocks said, "This one is just right."

ARC from Riverhead publisher.
Releases on March 7th.

Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 7 books1,483 followers
April 27, 2019
I really loved this book, and can say without hyperbole that it accomplishes one of - or in my opinion, THE - main goal of fiction: it generates empathy that allows us to better understand our world. The story here is a close allegory of the contemporary migrant experience, and the clever use of a surrealist device (I won't spoil it) and the close 3rd realism with which the two leads are drawn makes a deep, lasting impact.

The surreal/real mix is echoed in Hamid's clever mingling of classicism and the contemporary - EXIT WEST is a firm rebuke to those who argue that novels can't incorporate modern technology without feeling overly experimental. Phones and the internet replace letters and nostalgia, and in that replacement they show that it's possible to achieve strong feelings through our devices. The violence is a contradiction too; it's both brutal and largely occurs passively, off-screen, a rumor with glimpses of horror at the periphery (a soccer game, a bloody ceiling).

Best of all, this is a love story, and a good one. You find yourself caring for both Nadia and Saeed, veering between indignation for one and the other, with the great callbacks and setups that make real-life relationships feel plotted. The best, most difficult love stories necessitate rooting for the individuals even more than the coupling, and Hamid pulls it off.

I did feel the book could be a touch longer, and in its desire to make itself universal, it perhaps suffers a touch from its non-specifics. This is not a criticism, exactly, but it's a clear choice by Hamid to name and map the Western world while consigning Nadia and Saeed to Anytown, and I sometimes felt the frustration of that vagueness. On the other hand, to leave leaders and politics totally out of it and only show the effect of their decisions felt exactly right. And we don't miss the scene lesser writers might have given us in which a scientist leans back in his chair and gives a hazily realistic explanation for the surreality.

A late twist with Nadia, on the other hand (you'll know the one), felt a bit out of nowhere and could have used one more beat of set-up to make it feel earned. I'm not complaining about the plot-point, exactly, but the novel's sparseness makes certain second-half maneuvers feel schematic in comparison to the rich world of the beginning.

I won't spoil the ending, but it works too. Almost all of this does. I sense that, as so often happens, an ocean of political hype might soon drown out the literary achievement here. Don't fall for it.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,099 reviews44.1k followers
February 27, 2018
Exit West had the potential to be the greatest novel published in the last ten years. I don’t say such things liberally; it really did have a certain power due to it being so politically conscious, though somehow it failed to deliver what it could have done.

Let us rewind a little. Exit West begins in an undisclosed east, in a city at war. The corrupt government is subsequently toppled and the new regime isn’t exactly any better. The ordinary citizens, those with no particular political ties, are forced to do whatever they are told by whoever happens to be in power. Post-revolutionaries don’t exactly make life any better.

Enter Nadia and Saeed. They fall in love in the chaos that is approaching. The real world matters are pushed aside as they deal with the only real matter in their lives. They ignore the gunfire and the explosions and simply live for each other. Everything else is inconsequential until their lives become drastically threatened. Their freedom is a risk and as such they long for escape; they wish to leave the east and, as the title suggests, exit west. They leave much behind them in their bid for freedom though they know that, ultimately, it is worth it because they have each other. And here’s where the novel goes shooting down the toilet at light speed.

The only thing that would save it for me is a drastic re-writing of the last one hundred pages. As soon as the lovers exited west, all power the story had was wasted because of the mundane nature of what they then faced. I needed drama and I needed angry people and contentious political comment. Instead I got nothing. And this is where the novel’s potential was missed. What began as a political allegory ended as a petty domestic dispute. It would have been far more effective if when Nadia and Saeed finally exited west, they were met with all the issues surrounding immigration and refugees. I wanted to see hostility and fear in the eyes of the westerners, I wanted to Moshin Hamid tackle one of the most politically sensitive issues of our age. Had he written such a thing, from the perspective of the refugee, I think it would have been an exceedingly timely piece of writing.

It fell apart. Nadia and Saeed focus on matters of survival as the narrative goes absolutely nowhere. They shift from place to place as no progress is made within the writing other than the slow degrading of their relationship. For me, it all felt like one terribly large wasted opportunity. The author could have done so much more here.

And to quote the author to illustrate my point:

“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

When the characters migrated, Hamid murdered the potential of this novel leaving it behind in the dust. It was such a bitter disappointment because this novel could have been exceptional: it so nearly was.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,073 reviews6,805 followers
July 27, 2022
[Revised, spoilers hidden 7/27/22]

This novel is set in a near-future dystopia that, for the folks in the story, is a lot like their existing dystopia. Saeed and Nadia, a young unmarried couple, live in an unnamed war-ravaged country, let’s say, like Syria. They are basically confined to their neighborhood by the fighting, and mainly to their room. They have uncertain electric power and water, often relying on food lines for their next meal.

They flee the country as refugees, and make several subsequent trips to other countries, ending up in the same place: confined to a refugee camp, living mainly in their room, standing in food lines.


It’s a love story, and it isn’t a love story. We can see from the beginning how their different outlooks on life pull them away from each other. A very telling example of this is that wherever they go, Saeed, the male, seeks out others of his religion and ethnic group to hang out with. Nadia, who has lost all her family, has left all that behind and wants nothing to do with her old religion and customs.

And the story is science fiction and it’s not. They hear that ‘guarded doors’ exist that are portals to ‘other worlds.’ And it’s true! You bypass the guards or bribe them and you enter this door and find yourself in a refugee camp in another country. I say it’s not really science fiction because that’s the full extent of the magical realism going on, and clearly it’s just a metaphor for how refugees move from one country to another.

The story is also about the evils of ultra-nationalism. While they are fleeing in-fighting in their home country, wherever they go the camps they live in are attacked by government troops trying to remove them, or at least keep them confined, or by right-wing neo-Nazi types trying to kill or chase out the foreigners.


There is good writing. I’ll give some examples I liked starting with the opening lines:

“In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war…”

“…but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying.”

“…they had gone to his place that night, and she had shuffled off the weight of her virginity with some perplexity but not excessive fuss.”

[When Saeed first got a cell phone]: “Saeed partly resisted the pull of his phone. He found the antenna too powerful, the magic it summoned too mesmerizing, as though he were eating a banquet of limitless food, stuffing himself, stuffing himself, until he felt dazed and sick…”

“…their eyes followed Nadia as she moved around the apartment in her black robe, serving tea and biscuits and water, and not praying, though not ostentatiously not praying, more as if she were busy looking after people’s earthly needs and might do so later.”

“The island was pretty safe, they were told, except when it was not, which made it like most places.”


A good story and good writing, so a goodread. Exit West was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2017. The author is a native of Pakistan (b. 1971) but writes in English. He has written a half-dozen novels and a book of essays. I liked this book as much as I liked the first one by him that I read, Moth Smoke.

Top photo of war-ravaged Syria from news.cgtn.com
Migrant camp on a Greek island from middleeasteye.net
The author from france24.com
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews2,897 followers
August 9, 2017
There’s a clue early on that Mohsin Hamid posits attachment to place, even cultural identity as skin deep, an adaptation rather than any quintessential expression of identity. Nadia, the heroine, covers herself in black veils but as a defence against predatory or bigoted males rather than as an expression of religious or cultural conviction. Living spaces in this novel are depicted as temporary, transient, replacable. Even national identity is largely a series of acquisitions and adaptations, rather than some ineradicable essence of our being. National identity when articulated in language is so often just bigotry. I remember during Brexit the Brits who spouted off about national identity were individuals who made me feel ashamed of my country. If that’s what being British is you can lump it. What even is national identity? To my mind about 80% of it is simply speaking the language of the country you live in, the simple ability to communicate – which is why tourism might easily be seen as a more lethal contributor to cultural homogeneity than immigration: ask any Venetian. I’ve lived half of my life in Italy; Italians tell me I’m more Italian than British. But this isn’t true. I haven’t had to change much about myself to live in Italy. I go to a bar for breakfast; I gesture more with my hands than I did in England. But it’s wholly irrelevant that I’m not catholic for example. To fit in I’ve barely had to change anything about myself. So if there is such a thing as national identity and it’s linked to cultural identity – both essentially dubious notions in my view otherwise why would I find myself relating much more to a Somalian jewellery designer than the neighbours of my parents? – you could say the true enemy is not the immigrant but the tourist, who rarely learns the language of the visited country. Hamid is saying we're all, in the context of history, migrants, just as we're all tourists. There’s a distinction between Hamid’s two central characters, Nadia and Saeed: she is open to change, he, more the tourist in mindset, far less so. The magical device Hamid uses in this novel might on the one hand been seen as the digital ease with which we can now move about the planet but can also be seen as a metaphor for the travel agency in all its modern myriad forms, including people smuggling. There’s a nice little aside from a Native American in California towards the end of this book which brings home how absurd many of our concepts of national identity are.

It’s probably invalid to criticise an author for not doing something he had no intention of doing but I’m going to do it anyway. Hamid is so caught up with presenting a big picture that he often seems to neglect his characters. Sometimes they’re unable to articulate his ideas so he introduces a fleeting character of convenience who can. It was like the ideas of this book left his two central characters behind. At times it can seem more like some kind of brilliantly imagined essay than a novel. Perhaps that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m all for extending the boundaries of what a novel can achieve. But his virtual indifference to developing character began to make this novel seem like the literary equivalent of an air-conditioned environment for me. There was no weather. There was one particular moment when I most strongly felt this. The two refugees are in London and face racism and xenophobic nationalism in the form of a rioting crowd. The entire scene is depicted as if through a wide angle lens. It’s impersonal in nature. I couldn’t help feeling it would have been much more powerful and emotionally engaging had the author shown these two refugees being racially insulted close up by a small group of individuals and wondering why he didn’t do this. Racism at its most emotionally disturbing for me is when I see footage of one or more individuals insult another individual face to face. When the hate and hurt caused are of a highly personal nature. That’s when empathy for the victim is at its most powerful. And as a result of the impersonal nature of the hostility it seemed to have little effect on the character of the characters. They just drifted off to the next location with barely a metaphorical scratch. As the novel progressed the camera angle got wider and wider until I could barely make them out anymore. The ideas utterly dwarfed them. It felt more and more like this novel was written as a warning and the central thesis felt like a corset the characters were forced to wear which prevented them from developing as characters. They ended up little more than shadow shapes flitting over the globe – on the one hand brilliantly indicative of a universal modern truth but on the other frustrating from the point of view of my need to relate to the characters I read about.

Exit West is a tough one to star rate. Probably the most straightforward way to rate a novel is simply by how much you enjoyed reading it. If someone hated reading The Waves or War and Peace then why shouldn’t she give it one star irrespective of how much literary merit it might have? But sometimes we’re able to admire what we feel little love for, like the eloquence of a politician all of whose convictions we disagree with. Not that I disagreed with Hamid’s convictions but I can’t really say I loved this novel as a novel, though it was hugely thought provoking and extremely relevant to the times we live in.
Profile Image for Adina.
780 reviews2,956 followers
August 31, 2017
I finished Exist West almost a month ago and my review will reflect that because I tend to quickly forget details. Yeah, my memory is not that good. It took me a while to write a review due to a combination of hectic days at work and a new kitty at home (our first one).

Waiting so long to review also had its perks as I decided to change my rating from 4 to 3. I did not remain with the impression that it was a book that I would warmly recommend. Also, I was lucky to read the much better Home Fire, another book by A Pakistani writer nominated for the Booker prize.

The book has as center theme the plight of being a refugee and I believe the relevance of the subject in today’s world is what makes the short novel so successful. Mohsin tells the story of two young people from an unknown Muslim state, Nadia and Saeed, who fell in love and decide to flee from the country plagued by war. In Exit West, the refugee crisis takes Apocalyptic proportions due to the use of a fantasy device. Refugees use doors to travel to safer countries, doors that randomly transform into passages to another place. Due to this gimmick there are no more painful and perilous voyages in the cold waters of the Mediterranean or on land which, in my opinion, is a loss. I would have liked to read about the trip part in the refugee’s life. I might have added drama and warmth to the character's story line.

I did not like the characters too much and I could not warm up to them and their plight. I did enjoy how the book was written and constructed but the somewhat forced smartness made me detached to the story. I don’t know if I am making too much sense but this is how I felt.

Review to come next week, I hope. This was the first novel that I've read from the Booker Longlist. I enjoyed the writing although sometimes I felt it was too forced.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews678 followers
February 27, 2020
In a country with civil unrest and a brewing civil war, Nadia and Saeed meet one another in their night class. As they come to rely on one another in the middle of the chaos and instability consuming their country, their friendship deepens into a relationship. As the circumstances in their country deteriorate, rumors begin to go around about doors that aren't just normal doors, but doors that can take people to places far away. Eventually things become so dire that Nadia and Saeed decide to themselves find one of these doors in an effort to escape.

Spoilers ahead probably? Anyway I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I started out really enjoying it, especially the dynamics it showed between Nadia and Saeed. The fact that two such different characters ended up coming to rely on one another so much so and the way that the conflict seemed to play a significant factor in that was really interesting. Especially as the book goes on and we see that the two drift apart. It brings up a lot of questions about what brings two people together and the role shared experiences and trauma can play.

But then there was that door thing, and just I'm not sure why, but it didn't work for me. I know when we read fiction we have to suspend disbelief but I just couldn't do it. It was a really interesting idea but I guess I just wasn't in the head space to get into it. It was a good way to address ongoing problems we will be having in the future though. Especially with climate change, displacement of people will only grow and the problems brought up in the book will be relevant.

For me personally the book started out strong but as it went on I kind of felt less invested and I just wasn't sure where the book was going and I don't know how I feel about how it ends. I just usually prefer when there's a clear structure to the plot when I read books, and this was just more realistic and messy like life tends to be. It was still really well written and I did enjoy it. I just wish the door thing hadn't felt so hard to believe and that I had been able to continue to be immersed in the novel after that was introduced.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,850 reviews34.9k followers
April 17, 2017
Saeed and Nadia are contemporary young adults who come together "in a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet by war".

Nadia is living alone - as a young single female. When she leaves her flat, she wears a flowing black robe over her jeans and sweater which completely covers every inch of her body. This is her choice.

Why would a modern thinking young woman - who rides a motorbike - who attends business classes - who chooses to live alone -
who buys her own pot and psychedelic mushrooms for her own recreational pleasures-'also' choose to 'cover up' her body -during times when other young people her age are not?
Nadia is not religious- and doesn't pray. 'Seems' Nadia black robe doesn't fit everything else about her.

It is far from peaceful times. Beneath the surface of things....Militants are creating turmoil. Tensions grow - violence grows - an ugly - gut wrenching scene takes place in a bank -intimately & globally....I couldn't stop thinking about this scene --AS MUCH AS I WANTED TO. The scene was so irrational to me. It felt like Nadia's whole world shifted in that moment. And on the bigger scale -- I felt the whole world really 'did' shift....in a matter of seconds!!

Saeed and and Nadia each have very different types of personalities. As enticing and seductive as it was to bask in their togetherness, they actually had a very complicated relationship during very complicated times. There relationship continues to change as their circumstances do, too.

Leaving their 'no name' city-of-violence and injustice was as easy as going down the rabbit hole.....or in "Exit West", Saeed and Nadia simply needed to walk through the "mysterious doors".
The 'doors' are a quick transitions to journey 'west'.
I liked the way the author told this story. Rather than focus on the struggles of escaping - leaving a country at war....( such as I've read in Holocaust stories), we are quickly able to step into the new country with our leading characters.

What will Saeed and Nadia find on the other side of loss?
What sits for all migrants when uprooted? displaced?

And.....BEFORE departing from home - from family - before the hugs......
How does this feel?
"Saeed's Father then summoned Nadia into his room and spoke to her without Saeed and said that he was entrusting her with his son's life, and she, whom he called daughter, must, like a daughter, not fail him, whom she called father, and she must see Saeed through to safety, and he hoped she would one day marry his son and be called mother by his grandchildren, but this was at to them to decide, and all he asked was that she remain by Saeed's side until Saeed was out of danger, and he asked her to promise this to him, and she said she would promise only is Saeed's father came with them, and he said again that he could not, but that they must go, he said it softly, like a prayer, and she sat there with him in silence and the minutes passed, and in the end she promised, and it was an easy promise to make because she had at the time no thoughts of leaving Saeed, but it also a difficult one because in making it she felt she was abandoning the old man, and even if he did not have his siblings and his cousins, and might now go live with them or have them come live with him, they could not protect him as Saeed and Nadia could, and so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind".

SAD! ........ but hopeful.... anticipating brighter days!!!

4 stars ....I took a little 'off' because there was a part described about Saeed's parents which I felt was just odd.
Profile Image for Katie.
258 reviews330 followers
June 30, 2017
I read this with very high expectations because of all the hype. I ended up wondering if a lot of the praise it’s received has more to do with its subject matter than its quality as a novel.

Its subject matter is the plight of refugees – without question one of the most potentially moving and pertinent stories offered by the world we live in. But this novel was oddly unmoving for the most part, due to the somewhat anaemic and dispassionate nature of its two central characters. Saeed and Nadia both begin the novel as fascinating characters. We’re not told where they live though we can’t help thinking Syria. Nadia rides a motorbike, has disowned her family, lives alone in her own apartment and yet wears a black gown – as a kind of protective disguise rather than a symbol of any religious belief. You could therefore say she’s already a long way down the path to being “westernised”. Saeed is more grounded in tradition. It’s as if Hamid wants to give us two characters who don’t radically differ from us in the West, characters we can easily identify with. But to do this he ends up making them a bit bland. When they fall in love Nadia is willing to have sex, Saeed isn’t. Then the militants arrive.

The most undocumented, harrowing and dangerous part of a refugee’s life is absent from this novel– the journey from besieged homeland to the west. We don’t see the escape from the militant strangehold, the boat trip or the detention centre on Europe’s shores – in other words all the parts of the perilous and demeaning experience that are most likely to make a deep and changing impression on an individual’s character. And not only do we not see them we don’t feel the characters have experienced them, so unchanged do they remain. They make the transition from the horrors of a war torn country to “sanctuary” in the West with barely a hair on their head ruffled. Hamid uses a device called magic doors to get his characters from one place to another. (Virginia Woolf once complained about the necessity of getting a character from A to B as a woeful limitation of the novel’s form but I’m not sure what she had in mind as an alternative was the device Hamid uses.) Is this device clever or is it a failure of imagination? I’m afraid I’d opt for the latter. The narrative adheres to images we’re familiar with; it excludes the ones we’re not. Because the main problem I had with this novel is that Saeed and Nadia don’t really develop as characters throughout the novel, they never became vivid and living to me, their plight never moved me. They remained strangely neutered. They were too relentlessly rational in a world that was insanely irrational. They were like people experiencing the horrors on social media rather than on their nerves and skin.

London gets a very raw deal in this novel. It’s depicted as a place where natavists – xenophobic nationalists – are on the warpath in large numbers. Hamid’s idea of London has far more in common with Donald Trump’s notions about it than any reality I recognise. London voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and the Labour party recently annihilated the Tories in virtually every borough. If there’s one place in Europe which has a welcoming attitude towards migrants London could hold itself up as a candidate. Perhaps it doesn’t matter very much because this is a novel that gingerly remains one step removed from the real world. But if the city of Saeed and Nadia’s birth is never mentioned why single London out?

Probably I’ve concentrated exclusively on what didn’t work for me so I should say that I think Hamid is a very good writer – there are lots of excellent passages. I enjoyed the film of another of his novels. But this left me virtually unmoved which I can’t help seeing as a failure given the unchartered, volatile and heartbreaking potential of its subject matter.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,102 reviews1,595 followers
February 17, 2021

La copertina

Exit West mi è venuto addosso dal primo rigo con quel suo tono da favola.
Presto s’è aggiunto quello da parabola. Il tono da parabola.
Perfino più fastidioso.
E non molto dopo la situazione s’è aggravata con una certa qual aria di fantascienza.
Tre generi letterari con i quali mi sono sempre trovato a disagio. E la situazione non è migliorata neppure a questo giro. Tutt’altro.

Infatti, se non fosse che questo breve romanzo, in verità a me sembrato lunghissimo, quasi interminabile, al punto che ho dovuto resistere alla tentazione di abbandonarlo, se non fosse che Exit West parla di migrazione e migrazioni, proprio come un altro romanzo che ho letto di recente e che cito nel mio titolo, quell’altro goduto e apprezzato molto di più di questo, se non fosse per questo motivo, in fondo alla lettura non sarei certo arrivato.

I protagonisti sono Nadia e Saeed. E se lei la vorrei nella mia squadra, lui mi respinge abbastanza: prega, non vuol far sesso prima del matrimonio, è inchiodato nell’amore filiale, e a me ricorda un fondamentalista poco riluttante, per parafrasare il titolo dell’altro famoso romanzo di Hamid.
La violenza nella città in cui vivono cresce fino al punto di spingerli ad andare. Partire.
Ma emigrare si fa prima a dirlo che a farlo, c’è di mezzo il mare: in questo caso, invece, ci sono di mezzo porte nere che non si dovrebbe saper bene dove conducano, ma poi viene fuori che invece si sa benissimo dove portano, infatti si dice, prendiamo quella che porta a Buenos Aires, o quella che porta a Marin, come fanno proprio Nadia e Saeed.

Il deserto di Acatama in Cile, posto ideale per ammirare un cielo notturno stellato. Saeed sogna di andarci.

Ma anche quando i due approdano alla mia terra preferita, quella parte della California che va sotto la denominazione di Bay Area, neppure allora la lettura è migliorata: voltare l’ultima pagina e vedere la parola indice è stato un sollievo. Ahimé.
Non c’è nulla da fare, anche il soggetto più interessante si annulla se non scatta l’incanto della scrittura.

Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,079 reviews17.2k followers
August 10, 2019
“Why do you wear that if you don’t pray?”
“So men don’t fuck with me.”

And I kind of knew I would love this from the moment Nadia said this and then donned a motorcycle helmet and rode off like a bad bitch, but oh my god, this was a really good book.

So this book is a love story, but not the love story you expect. One of the narratives I’ve heard about this book is that its intermingling of the world and of the romance feels muddled, and I understand that; however, for me, this intertwining made the book feel more real. I liked the contrast between this really personal story and a broad story. Life takes many forms. Because Exit West is a love story between two people, but also a love story with the world. It’s a book filled with the idea of love taking many forms, and Nadia finding a girl as her happy ending, people finding people of different races and genders: it subverts our expectations for what’s coming.

I see this criticized a lot for its strange optimism through despair. I will grant that I tend to adore this kind of hopeful story, but I’m also going to say I think this optimism is the point. And through the strangely optimistic dystopia of Exit West, there’s something incredibly transgressive being said about the world:
“Part of the great political crisis we face in the world today is a failure to imagine plausible desirable futures. We are surrounded by nostalgic visions, violently nostalgic visions. Fiction can imagine differently.... We certainly need it now. Because if we can’t imagine desirable futures for ourselves that stand a chance of actually coming to pass, our collective depression could well condemn humanity to a period of terrible savagery.” -Mohsin Hamid, The New Yorker

It’s a very personal, down-to-earth story about a major, wide-world subject. In the first chapter, an adorable story of a student attempting to ask out a cute girl as the city falls apart. In the second chapter, a strongly humanized immigrant accidentally creeping into the home of a strongly humanized australian family, not to disturb, but to move on. He presents a global narrative, but doesn’t present the story as a political one. He uses magical realism to criticize the nationalistic, broad-strokes manner with which we see the world, to engage with topics that in a “real” world, we would not accept. It’s a book in which the beauty of nature is intermixed with the beauty of humanity, in Marin and the London Belt.

We don’t think of a love story as growing apart, but for Nadia and Saeed, this is not a love story with each other - this is a love story with the world, with our cosmopolitan earth. Cosmopolitanism, in this novel, is a mindset, something which Saeed must find in those of other faiths, which Nadia must find in a kitchen and a tall cook. And Saeed and Nadia, despite their moving on, do not hate each other. They take long walks on the beach and they think of each other fondly, because that is how the world works.

We see love in so many forms - in Saeed and Nadia’s relationships with each other and with other people, in the two elderly men who share art and find their humanity together, and in the love story with the world. We see migration in so many forms - yes, there’s the the migration story of Nadia and Saeed, but interludes such as the maid’s interlude, towards the end, presents an idea of the optionality of leaving.

I want to end this with a question to think about: 1) I hold with Hamid’s views on immigration, and 2) I think his method of demonstrating his views is such a fantastic example of what makes this book so powerful:
“I personally tend to believe that there is a right to migration in the same way that there's a right to love whom you like, to believe what you believe, and to say what you want to say.” -Mohsin Hamid, NPR Morning Edition

65 million refugees is such an easy number to trot out, to put in place of faces and names and humanity. But all 65 million of those people have a family. All 65 million have friends. All 65 million have a past, a home they came from, even a temporary home. All 65 million have hobbies and love and romance. And I think Hamid’s main point is to humanize that, to humanize every refugee and every journey.

in conclusion: Mohsin Hamid's version of the world, and of human beings, is so real and flawed and yet so hopeful, and the endings aren't perfect happy endings, far from it, but there is something beautiful and real in the imperfection. I adored this.

contemporary global lit: book 3
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Profile Image for Carol.
313 reviews825 followers
June 5, 2017
Hamid's novels seem to produce extreme reactions. I am in the camp that finds his writing, his perspective, his understanding of human nature, of history, of lovers, of life, and his run-on sentences (see what I did there?) to be magical. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a book I found to be stunning. Almost no one talks about it. On the other hand, everyone read and talks about The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a novel I found to be fine, but not special. Exit West has a great deal more in common with HTGFR than it does Hamid's earlier work. It is about young people, about openness to the new, about the struggle to forge a new life in a new place, about the response of natives to later arrivals. It is melancholy. It is hopeful. It is quiet.
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews202 followers
March 25, 2017
Exit West

Mohsin Hamid photo p017j094_zpsg5ibtgnd.jpg
Mohsin Hamid - The Author

We are all migrants through time
Moshin Hamid - Exit West


Literature fulfills many roles in our lives. We read to learn about a certain topic, to develop a deeper sense of empathy, in search of enlightenment or just as a pure source of escapism. In Exit West, author Mohsin Hamid pursues a highly idealistic but worthy goal, namely, to give us a story that regards our planet's geography, its borders, and resources in a different way.

Exit West is a wonder of a novel. Hamid stunning writing flows elegantly and beautifully and, in spite of its obvious political undercurrents, this is not an overtly political story. Instead, the author strives to take a more universal, existential and ultimately hopeful view on the issue of the refugee crisis and how the global community is reacting to it.

There is also a romance here but this is far from a conventional love story. We first encounter Nadia and Saeed in their mid-20s, just as they meet while attending a business workshop. As it tends to happen when people are attracted to each other, they are in many ways, complete opposites. Whereas Saeed is a conformist who still lives with his parents and subscribes to most conventional norms and traditions, Nadia thrives in challenging them. She is non-religious, drives a motorcycle and is sexually adventurous.

The country and city where they live remain nameless, but we learn from the start that this is a place on the brink of political and social upheaval. A civil war between the government and local Islamic militants is all but imminent.

Syrian refugees in Bulgaria photo syrianRefugees-Bulgaria_zpszyljawc9.jpg Syrian refugees at a camp in Bulgaria

Still, Hamid emphasizes how, even in the midst of chaos and facing perilous circumstances, people strive to live ordinary lives. And so they work, they study, they pray, they fall in love. Or, as he puts it "Our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginning and middles until the instant when it does." We humans are nothing if not resilient.

Eventually, the militants succeed in taking control of the city, forcing many, including Saeed and Nadia, to flee the country. It is here that Hamid inserts a rather unconventional literary device: mysterious “doors”, which can be used as portals to travel from country to country, begin to appear everywhere, effectively allowing people to become instant immigrants.

When I first heard the author describing these "magical" doors, the idea sounded so farfetched that I wondered if it might get in the way of the story. Fortunately, my concerns were misplaced as Hamid threads this concept so flawlessly into the narrative that shortly you just absorb it. This is not I think, by accident but by design, the physics and mechanical details of how these doors are supposed to work is not what he wants the reader to focus on.

Saeed and Nadia's decision to leave underscores, once again, their contrasting personalities, Saeed dreads leaving his family behind and is weary of what lies ahead. Nadia on the other hand, is driven by what she might find behind those doors and the opportunities that might be awaiting them on the other side.

The novel's first chapters are devoted to the "leaving" part of the immigrant experience. Hamid explores the agonizing process people go through once they decide to leave their country of origin as well as the many concerns they have to live with: Will I survive the journey? Will I ever see my country and family again? How soon will I adapt to this new place? Will I feel welcomed?

Syrian refugees arrive on Lesbos, Greece photo syrian-refugee-child-beach-600x367_1_zpsmecpxr9u.jpg
Syrian refugees arrive on Lesbos, Greece

The next part of Exit West which covers the "arrival" part of the journey, follows Nadia and Saeed's life as refugees. Their travels will take them initially to the Greek Island of Mykonos, later on to London, and finally to Marin County, California. As time passes, the young couple remains protective of each other but they gradually fall out of love. By the end what has kept them together is mostly a sense of loyalty and a fear of losing their only connection to the past.

Exit West has been marketed under the "Magical Realism" genre. For readers that might not find this description particularly enticing, I would say that this label applies only in the narrowest sense. Hamid's half-hearted embrace of some fantastical elements seems mostly design to underscore the parts of the narrative he wishes to keep in the forefront. To wit, the long-term patterns of human migration throughout history, the physical and emotional plight refugees endured every day and, for good or bad, the ubiquitous presence of technology in their lives.

Unlike the characters in this work of fiction, real life refugees don't have access to magic doors to escape their predicament. Exit West offers a sensible, often nuanced interpretation of what it means to be displaced, of the distribution of our planet's limited resources and, in these times of Brexit and Trump, ask us to consider, what if we were to try another approach to the current refugee crisis?

Rarely do I feel compelled to re-read a novel the moment after I finish it, but that was my exact reaction to this poignant story. A highly recommended read.
Profile Image for Sam.
142 reviews304 followers
March 7, 2017
For when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.

Though a thin slip of a novel, Exit West packs a powerful punch cloaked subtly in a quiet but dynamic tale of migration, told in exquisite yet plain language that is thought provoking and soothing and enraging and just plain beautiful. Nadia and Saeed of a unnamed nation are the focal points, and we follow their journey through young love in a country on the precipice of civil war, to unsteady allies as unwanted refugees in lands reasserting their nativeness and excluding the foreign and alien, to adults grappling with their changing selves and connections to each other and their home while building a new, uncertain future. But Mohsin Hamid makes this story so universal, drawing in smaller and larger patterns of human migration, of love and loss, and the ephemeral nature of humanity that makes one life and all life so precious and so precarious. I would give this 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars for the depth of feeling and intelligence and beauty in the writing.

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 that it does.

Hamid presents the constant churn of connection versus alienation, of new possibilities versus bittersweet nostalgia, of the cages we build for ourselves that we yearn to transcend versus the freedom we long for but also fear, of the comfort and joy of love versus how that love turns to loss and heartbreak: these all apply to our particular lives, and Nadia and Saeed’s tale for certain, but also to the essence of what it means to be human. We are all migrants through time is the quote most often cited by previous reviewers, and as the universality builds, I better understood why that jumps out so readily. He shows us a variety of characters, in Nadia and Saeed’s tale and in the small anecdotes of individuals spread across the world, then illustrates the common threads uniting them (and us) all, and I loved this way of showing sameness by route of difference. His description of Saeed praying is very illustrative of his overall skill:

When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world…

Hamid does allow his characters to become as important as his larger ideas and themes, and I followed with trepidation the acquaintance, affection, alienation and estrangement of Nadia and Saeed as they encounter sectarian war, death, hunger, fear, refugee camps, the anger and kindness of strangers on their journey of migration. Hamid has a light touch of magical realism, as his characters escape via doors from one location to another, not letting their journeys in each location be compromised by too many details of the journeys between each location. Hamid is good at showing connection, a hint of a spark, how love begins in the early meetings between Saeed and Nadia, but he is even better at channeling the complicated feelings of a love grown stale and not nurtured as best it could be, a love being buffeted about by circumstance, and how humans fall out of love with each other as well, and simultaneously hold onto their connections and are dissatisfied with them out of “…the fear of severing their tie, the end of the world they had built together, a world of shared experiences in which no one else would share, and a shared intimate language that was unique to them, and a sense that what they might break was special and likely irreplaceable.” I won’t speak too much more on the plot details and where Nadia and Saeed end up physically or romantically, but most of the world’s greatest love stories, whether ending for good or ill, together or apart, involve adversity and strife and trials of the highest order, and Nadia and Saeed’s certainly fits that criteria, even if their union doesn’t immediately vault to say Romeo and Juliet immortality. But Hamid makes the love story as compelling as the larger ideas about humanity, which of course is also the point: in our own little lives, we may feel as though we love someone greater than any person has ever loved someone, and when our hearts are broken, we feel devastation and despair so great that no one else could have ever had their heart broken so badly before. But the human experience is a shared experience, and we can (and should, and probably don’t do enough) empathize with each other and rebuild ourselves and our world on the backs of that shared empathy.

…the apocalypse appeared to have arrived and yet it was not apocalyptic, which is to say that while the changes were jarring they were not the end, and life went on, and people found things to do and ways to be and people to be with, and plausible desirable futures began to emerge, unimaginable previously, but not unimaginable now, and the result was something not unlike relief.

This novel is incredibly timely in the wake of Brexit, the Trump election, the horrors of the war in Syria, the plight of refugees in Europe and the deepening of the various fault lines between people, whether by religion or color or orientation. But it’s also timeless, looking at the vast history and fabric of human experience, and ultimately in Exit West and in human life, hope springs eternal, time moves inexorably forward, all things must end and what comes after always can be better than what came before. And in addition to those universal themes, the particular tale of Nadia and Saeed is both a great framework to explore these complex, intertwined ideas, and a beautiful yet bittersweet story of love and loss between two individuals. I was incredibly moved by this read, which I devoured over the course of a few hours, and throughout I found myself constantly marking pages, writing down specific lines and passages, and feeling overcome with emotion. Very much recommend for lovers of literary fiction, who like a quiet but powerful story, and like to be able to step outside of one’s usual box at the same time as being reminded of our greater commonalities than differences as a human race.

-received an ARC via edelweiss, thanks to Riverhead Books and Penguin Random House.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
766 reviews
October 6, 2017
Early in this book about exile, there is a tiny little scene featuring a telescope.

When I read that scene, I immediately thought, yes, looking through a telescope is a perfect metaphor to use in a book that sets out to examine the plight of people whom the majority of the book’s readers may not otherwise see close up.

If I picked up on that minor scene, it was because I'd been thinking about telescopes in relation to another book about exile I'd been reading, Us & Them, which, like a metaphorical telescope, seemed to bring the far-away near, to make ‘them’ indistinguishable from ‘us’.

As I read more of Exit West, I was certain I would find similar magnifying power but before long it seemed to me that Hamid’s metaphorical telescope served a different function, almost an opposite one. In the scene in which the real telescope is mentioned, the main character is using it to look at Mars, the second-nearest planet, its features indistinct, the colour of a sunset after a dust storm. The story then moves on and the telescope and Mars are forgotten in the press of events. I would have forgotten them too except that the more of Hamid’s story I read, the more I felt I was viewing it from far away rather than close up. The characters became distant and unknowable, the locations alien and unrecognizable, the pace of the story, odd, speeded up at times, dragging at others. The writing was beautifully clear but the story itself was indistinct, literally as hazy as a sunset after a dust storm.

It might all have been happening on Mars.
Profile Image for Liz.
1,918 reviews2,356 followers
November 13, 2018

My mind is full to overflowing with thoughts about this book. It’s a beautifully written book, although at times it’s overwhelming. And there were parts of it that just totally confused me.

I love how it deals with the fears of citizens trapped in a city torn apart. “...warriors on both sides who seemed content to flatten it in order to possess it.” It takes you so fully into that environment. I loved how the younger generations, for whom cell phones and internet were a given, were laid low when those sources of communication failed.

The intermittent chapters that take us elsewhere and introduce us to different characters were confusing for me. Whatever the point the author was trying to make, it eluded me.

The book reminded me, in feel, of The Underground Railroad. It has that same otherworldliness, a sense of magical realism, to it. There are doors to elsewhere that Saeed and Nadia use to escape.

With everything going on in the world, with migrants in all countries, with nationalists’ or nativists’ anger increasing, the book strikes a chord. I found I needed to take time with this book, to ponder the thoughts it brought up with me.

Nadia and Saeed are fully drawn, three dimensional characters. I loved how their relationship is described and how it evolves. I was heavily highlighting the parts of the book that dealt with their relationship.

I’m reading this book for a book club and am thrilled I will have the chance to talk about it with others. This book cried out to be discussed.

Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,504 reviews24.5k followers
February 21, 2018
This is a brilliant and moving read from Mohsin Hamid which provides a critically imperative and timely novel of the urgency of contemporary global issues with the rising tide of displaced refugees and migrants. In beautiful prose, Hamid weaves a personal affecting account of being a refugee with providing a social and political commentary on war, and the deplorable experiences that refugees are subject to in various countries in the west. It begins in the East, a country that to me feels like it could be Pakistan, where the independent and adventurous Nadia meets the more introvert and timid Saeed just as the country begins to slide into a horrific civil war that comes to tragically encroach on them personally. As the violence escalates, leaving their homeland appears to be their only option, the two hear of rumours of the existence of doors, portals that allow them to exit West, an inherently fantastical element that they, amongst so many others, utilise. Narrated by a dispassionate observer, this is a story of war, identity, adapting, love, loss, sacrifice, and what it is to be a traumatised refugee amidst the hostility that swamps them in the countries in which they harbour elusive hopes of safety and security.

The couple go through numerous doors which includes visits to London and San Francisco in California where a large tent city has grown. What Nadia and Saeed encounter in their travels has them questioning who they are and what they mean to each other, exacerbated by the toll that the stresses and strains of their situation place on them. This tugs at the threads of their love and their personal relationship as it begins to fray. Nadia's responses differ from Saeed, she is more adaptable than he is as he sinks into prayers in his search for answers. As the challenges and demands of being in exile, immersed in a world that looks unfavourably on them, it is barely surprising that their love for each other begins to fall apart, although their regard and affection for each other remains, built through the fires of their mutual history.

This is an immensely thought provoking novel, confronting the growing nightmare of anti-refugee sentiments that engulf the west, amidst the ever growing exodus from war torn, dangerous and unstable nations. Refugees face bigotry, racism, riots, death and more. Mohsin Hamid's novel speaks to us of the times we live in and the uncertain and unsettling future beckoning greater worries of greater turbulence. My one regret is that the emotional distance provided by the narrator deprives the story of a more emotional and visceral reality that readers may have connected with more. Otherwise, an exceptional, absorbing and compelling read that I recommend highly! Many thanks to Penguin for an ARC.
Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
398 reviews2,168 followers
February 6, 2019
Posted at Heradas

Mohsin Hamid has created something wonderful with this endearing, and perfectly formed short novel. What an evocative and striking way to discuss refugees, ideological war, tribalism, and love. This book broke through my exterior barriers and nurtured something tender inside of me. It seems for the most part, people are really the same, and we all want the same things regardless of where we come from: security, companionship, and the means to better ourselves. The things we’ve lived through, our experiences, coalesce and form us into who we are, shaping the basis of what we might become.

"We are all migrants through time."

Windows and doors feature heavily in Exit West. The dangers of the ongoing war between the militants and the government in our protagonists’ unnamed middle eastern country, enter through windows. As the war grows more serious, every glass pane holds within it the potential to become lacerating shrapnel. The ongoing fighting perverts everything into something it was never intended to be. Windows into shrapnel. Streets into battlegrounds. Characters are killed accidentally through the glass windshields of their cars by misguided munitions. Windows are boarded up, taped up, or obscured for security, limiting the light available indoors.

Doors are where the magical aspect of the story comes into play. Most of the time doors operate as normal, allowing passage from one room to another, from outside to inside, or inside to out. But sometimes, at seemingly random and unpredictable moments, certain doors have started leading elsewhere, to adjacent doors in other lands. Offering a means of escape from local dangers, and passage to the relative safety and wealth of the West. Doors like these are opening up all over the world, and just as the relative size of the world was flattened and reduced dramatically with the invention of the internet, these doors literally fold and flatten the space between the Eastern and Western, Southern and Northern corners of the world. The myriad ways in which this change impacts the societies in the novel was the most interesting aspect of the story for me.

As the effective distance between continents diminishes, the realities of the world that were once far away from the wealthy and fortunate, were once nebulous and ethereal to them, are made vividly real and close. Travel, particularly meeting and interacting with those unlike ourselves, is said to be one of the best ways to overcome existing prejudices and preconceived notions about those from human tribes different from our own. With these doors that have started connecting us, everyone, everywhere has now come into contact with several individuals unlike themselves. Millions begin fleeing from the poorer nations to the richer ones, and this starts to cause a rapid change and instability among the natives of the richer lands.

"Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians."

This change is met with a variety of responses: fear, compassion, intrigue, curiosity, hope, etc. What Exit West does so well is give a glimpse into the daily realities of refugees fleeing from war torn countries, the sorts of terrors they can be running from, the sort of hope they often subside on. It broke my heart, and I think will go a long way toward making me a better, more compassionate person.

In addition to the wonderful social commentary, Exit West is also a love story of the highest caliber, a magically real fairy tale, unafraid to shy away from the realities of love, loss, and the changes quickened or postponed by devastating circumstances. The relationship between Saeed and Nadia grows and expands as the narrative progresses. They are one thing to each other in the beginning and another thing entirely by the end. They meet as students of higher education in their country of origin, and I found it interesting to compare and contrast their story with that of a western couple meeting for the first time at a college in America. In a lot of ways, the extreme situations they find themselves in, possibly hold them together for longer than would be ideal had they been born into different circumstances.

As someone who has never had a similar experience, I found the ways in which Nadia was able to insulate and protect herself in a culture she felt somewhat apart from, particularly interesting. The ways in which a system sometimes inadvertently makes available tools with which we can protect ourselves from that system is a fascinating area to examine. I think it speaks toward the ingenuity of humans to utilize everything that is available to us to better our prospects and secure the future we desire.

"He knew how little it took to make a man into meat: the wrong blow, the wrong gunshot, the wrong flick of a blade, turn of a car, presence of a microorganism in a handshake, a cough. He was aware that alone a person is almost nothing."

All of my friends who have previously read Exit West specifically mentioned to me that the ending crushed them, brought them to tears or reduced them into a weeping, bumbling mess. It didn’t have that effect on me at all. Instead, I found it unbelievably beautiful, and I sat in contemplative awe, marveling at how perfect the ending was, that the author had pulled it off so elegantly. How in retrospect it was the only possible real ending, and the one I hoped the book would arrive at. It was an evocative, emotionally satisfying scene to finish the story.

To me, Exit West is overall, a hopeful novel, but it touches on deadly serious themes and the brutalities of human existence. I found it moving and beautifully expressed. It is a book that I plan on revisiting many times throughout my life.
June 30, 2021
Mohsin Hamid has written a poignant, thought-provoking love story amidst the worldwide turmoil of conflict, disharmony and its horrendous consequences of displacement. These two themes are dealt with in a wonderfully balanced and fluid way, which illustrates Hamid’s clever writing skills, and is a clear observational overview of today's world.

The story initially starts in an unknown Middle-East country (unfortunately, some real countries/cities fit the description). Saeed and Nadia meet as students, and their relationship develops slowly, with the brakes of religion and independence holding it back. Saeed wants to wait until they are married before consummating their relationship. At the same time, Nadia is a very independent woman who isn’t indoctrinated into religion and doesn’t follow traditions unless it is to ward off male advances. Mohsin's writing creates such wonderful imagery and a sense of personality, especially within this relationship. I loved the dynamic and illustration where Saeed fought for celibacy outside marriage, and Nadia was the open-minded person, challenging the controlling restrictions of religion, morals and society.

The city they live in gradually escalates into conflict, forcing Nadia to move in with Saeed and his father for safety. After living for a period of turmoil, the only sensible option is to leave their home through magical transportation doors that lead to other regions. The narration creates a graphic insight into how a civil war creeps up on the residents, with a foreboding and fatalistic feeling that lives and dreams will be shattered. It is difficult to run from the home you have always known to an alien and unwelcome place. Saeed’s father decides to remain, knowing it most likely means death, but at least he will be home and near his beloved deceased wife.

As refugees, Saeed and Nadia arrive in places where they are unwanted and treated with disdain, loathing and persecution. The couple maintains their relationship throughout, moving to Mykonos, then London, and finally to California, always hoping for salvation, always Exiting West. There is an irony in the locations of the UK and USA, as both have recently experienced a public electoral decision that wishes to take drastic steps to prevent immigration and refugee support. A hugely relative and emotive issue sets policies of division and isolation in a world consumed with war, genocide, migration, bigotry and racism.

The story had a strange end, as both the relationship between Saeed and Nadia and the refugee crisis seem to run out of pace. It does, however, leave us with a renewed sense of hope for humanity to build a better world.
Many thanks to Penguin Books (UK) Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,686 reviews2,242 followers
September 8, 2017
Edit - rounded down stars from 4 to 3

3.5 Stars (remains the same)

”In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak for her. For many days.”
In public, Nadia is always dressed in a flowing black robe, covering every inch of her from her neck to her toes. Saeed has a shadow of a beard, stubble, which he meticulously maintains. They are studying corporate identity and product branding, despite the feeling of impending war.

”…our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.”

Time passes, they meet quietly often, affections grow as do other feelings, and there is almost an endless feelings of the push and pull of their relationship, as the push and pull of opposing sides grows ever louder, larger and more present. More time passes, and they feel the need to find a place where they can live without this never-ending fear.

”Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians.”

And so, they find a way out by virtue of cash, and leave for other shores, but while it is better, it is not the answer. Leaving family, leaving Saeed’s father behind. And so, they leave once more, and things are better, but still it is not the future of their dreams.

“…and so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

There’s an element of magical realism that plays in this novel that I never felt I fully embraced. This is where it fell a little flat for me. The characters felt a little too one-dimensional to me, or maybe because they were also not overly likeable, it was not as easy to care about what happened to them. For me.

What did work well for me was the writing, which elevated this enough to keep reading, and also the premise of this novel kept drawing me back in. I kept hoping there was something that would live up to my expectations, and eventually, it did. What I loved most about this story was how all of this wrapped up in the end, a fitting and lovely ending.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews95.8k followers
August 29, 2017
Wow. This is such an amazing book, and despite it being set in a near future, it’s completely current. In fall-into-prose, Hamid tells a love story between two refugees, where doors offer escape from their war-torn country. I love how so many authors are using fabulism in their novels recently, and Hamid’s fabulistic doors offer a unique look into the sudden-ness of being forced to leave home. Exit West is such a bittersweet, human story. I recommend reading it in 1-2 sittings; it’s so easy to become swept up in the prose. Despite the war, loss, and grief the characters experience, it’s still a hopeful read. It makes me think that maybe the world can be a better place; that we can learn to all be human together. I anticipate giving this to many friends this year. Go read it!

— Margaret Kingsbury

from The Best Books We Read In May 2017: https://bookriot.com/2017/06/02/riot-...

Saeed and Nadia, a young couple keeping their relationship secret, escape their war-torn South Asian country (We are never told where exactly they’re from) through mystical doors that transport migrants from safe place to safe place. The doors appear all over the globe and people step out into new countries easily. But being a refugee is not easy, and they must always be on the lookout, and as they learn to start over and survive, Saeed and Nadia’s relationship moves through peaks and valleys. I was in a trance while I read Exit West. Mohsin Hamid’s writing is flawless, enrapturing, and left me breathless.

— Ashley Holstrom

from The Best Books We Read In February 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/02/28/riot-r...


This one isn’t out for some months, but I have to scream from the rooftops about it. The book opens in a city somewhere in South Asia, presumably; we aren’t told where exactly. Saeed, a young, charming, honest man, falls in love with the outrageous and rebellious Nadia. As their relationship develops, Hamid also gives you parallel snippets of their city going to war, and normal life being slowly, and then suddenly, thrown out the window. Some chapters in, the book takes a sharp turn and enters a magic realist tunnel that left me gaping. In a world taken by storm my war and subsequent immigration, Hamid beautifully and poignantly tells us the course Saeed and Nadia’s relationship takes as they move across the globe.

— Deepali Agarwal

from The Best Books We Read In September 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/10/03/riot-r...
Profile Image for Nat.
542 reviews3,170 followers
August 2, 2018
I've seen this book quite a lot online since its release a couple of months back and finally decided to give it a shot yesterday... and I was transfixed almost instantly with that first chapter, especially once the dynamic Nadia was introduced into my life:

“When Saeed and Nadia finally had coffee together in the cafeteria, which happened the following week, after the very next session of their class, Saeed asked her about her conservative and virtually all-concealing black robe.
“If you don’t pray,” he said, lowering his voice, “why do you wear it?”
They were sitting at a table for two by a window, overlooking snarled traffic on the street below. Their phones rested screens-down between them, like the weapons of desperadoes at a parley.
She smiled. Took a sip. And spoke, the lower half of her face obscured by her cup.
“So men don’t fuck with me,” she said.”

Reading her response was a surge of power.

I continued on excitedly and became quickly invested in the narrative and the smooth switching point of views. I especially enjoyed how the story shifts from focusing on Saeed and Nadia to introducing swift tales of other character perspectives while stepping through a door that can whisk them far away from their homeland. The language in those stories was in particular eye-catching. And I cherished how it gave us a broader look on a vital topic such as migration.

But circling back to the main pair in this book, I was fascinated to follow the relationship and journey quiet and devout Saeed and fiercely independent Nadia undertook through their shifting positions in life after the imminent fall of their city. From students to lovers to migrants to survivors, and so much more... It was powerful and refreshing to witness.

And this quietly beautiful moment stands out most when I think of them:

“Her leg and arm touched Saeed’s leg and arm, and he was warm through his clothing, and he sat in a way that suggested exhaustion. But he also managed a tired smile, which was encouraging, and when she opened her fist to reveal what was inside, as she had once before done on her rooftop a brief lifetime ago, and he saw the weed, he started to laugh, almost soundlessly, a gentle rumble, and he said, his voice uncoiling like a slow, languid exhalation of marijuana-scented smoke, “Fantastic.”
Saeed rolled the joint for them both, Nadia barely containing her jubilation, and wanting to hug him but restraining herself. He lit it and they consumed it, lungs burning, and the first thing that struck her was that this weed was much stronger than the hash back home, and she was quite floored by its effects, and also well on her way to becoming a little paranoid, and finding it difficult to speak.
For a while they sat in silence, the temperature dropping outside. Saeed fetched a blanket and they bundled it around themselves. And then, not looking at each other, they started to laugh, and Nadia laughed until she cried.”

I was moved and strengthened by this passage.

However, their relationship hit a bit of a lull about halfway through the book for me when it was seemingly going nowhere in particular. And then also in terms of plot or character develemopent there wasn't anything exciting on the table. But once the book managed to move from that rough spot, I was all the more enraptured.

All in all: Exit West was an impactful read about war and migrants and nativists while also veering into themes of love, desire, and religion.

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