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Exit West
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September 2019: Cultural > [TRIM] Exit West by Mohsin Hamid - 5 Stars

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message 1: by Theresa (last edited Sep 08, 2019 11:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Theresa | 7401 comments This is a deceptively simple story, one of a young man named Saeed attracted to a young woman named Nadia while taking an evening class in an unidentified city in the midst of a civil war. A love story against the backdrop of war and immigration for survival, how both affect the budding relationship. And yet...with great finesse, while the author takes us along with Saeed and Nadia through magical portals to new places in their quest for safety, he also takes the reader's mind preconceptions on a different journey using the magic portal of his writing. It is exciting and scary, hopeful as well as a little sad. It's marvelous!

Hamid keeps everything deceptively simple. This is a dystopian tale, but one drawn on the individual and small community in times of war and its aftermath. He uses magical portals as a means to introduce the topic of borders and what happens with the artificiality of borders disappears. He shows you not just people escaping through portals, but also how portals can be used as a direct means of transport. He shows you several different relationships - parent/child, lovers, husband/wife - and how they all fit into a world with no borders, civil war and survival.

Hamid plays with the reader's perception by using language that gently has that reader suddenly go 'ah ha!' or 'oh' or 'hadn't thought of it this way'. One example for me is at the very beginning of Chapter 3 where he has a few sentences describing a cellphone as antenna. It reminded me of something a college professor (anthropology) said: even the simplest acceptable act -- a man shaving -- when written and described in the simplest, most basic descriptive language, will sound like a strange exotic custom. Today we refer to that as 'spin' -- and every society and every individual can and does tell their story to impress, to advance, to instill fear ... or not. There are many more moments like that, written with great delicacy and deadly accuracy, most often addressing the concept of distance and space, and even time.

It also brings to mind recent history. While not identified, Saeed and Nadia clearly live in a country/city that is in the middle east or some other hot dry region with fundamentalist religion (like Islam) at war with a more western leaning social and political structure. The countries they escape to through the portals are identified by name, all western cultures now coping with massive and ethnically diverse numbers of refugees. In a few short chapters, Hamid effectively shows the different levels of acceptance of refugees the different cultures provide -- something we are seeing debated and changing in own country during the current political administration. And he simply but effectively challenges our instinctive judgment of someone by appearance (view spoiler).

It's still with all that an excellent story.


message 2: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7861 comments This is one I have shied away from because of the dystopian label that's been put on it. Your review has me thinking....I may yet pick it up.


message 3: by Theresa (last edited Sep 08, 2019 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Theresa | 7401 comments @Joanne - if it makes a difference - inspite of the fact that I have read at least 3 labeled as dystopian novels in the last month, and count another as one of my top 10 reads in last 5 years (Station Eleven if you are wondering), I am so not a reader or fan of dystopian literature! I am, however, a fan of great interesting writing in any genre.

I consider Exit West as using a very light dystopian format to explore themes about borders and immigration and refugees when technology has made 'global' into a neighborhood.


Booknblues | 6183 comments It could be described as both magical realism and dystopian, but at the heart of it is the brutal realism of countries, failing and erupting into violence and their population having to flee to find a safe place.

The fleeing is a risk and many do not survive as we have seen in images plastered on front pages and across the internet. Through the fleeing are the doors and portals and they really are a bit magical.

Then there is the place they land and they can indeed seem very dystopian. You arrive in a country in which you expect to find a safe haven and your child is taken to a shower and you never see her again.

Or you are thrown into a refugee camp and you have to abide by rules which you don't understand or you will not be allowed into the country and sent back to your old one.

I saw the dystopian thread as partly a reminder of what life can be like for a refugee.


Holly R W | 1384 comments I am enjoying your discussion of Exit West, a book that I found to be very thought provoking. To me, the book almost seemed like two separate books. At first, there was the meeting and love story of Saeed and Nadia in the first half of the book. There was a lot of focus on their characters - similarities and differences. This is the part of the book I most enjoyed.

When Saeed and Nadia left their country, the book took a distinctly dystopian turn. They became "migrants", a term that sadly now is becoming a normal part of our everyday language. They never found the safety and better life that they were seeking. The second half of the book was disturbing.

I read the book back in January. As I read articles detailing the experiences of immigrants seeking entry to our country (the U.S.), I think of the book often. It seems to have been eerily prescient.

@Theresa: I too was intrigued by Nadia's wearing the traditional long black robe which we in the west associate with repression of women. She wore it for her own personal safety, was not religious and felt comfortable in it. Wasn't there a scene with her in the robe riding either a bike or a motorcycle?


Theresa | 7401 comments Holly R W wrote: " was not religious and felt comfortable in it. Wasn't there a scene with her in the robe riding either a bike or a motorcycle

Absolutely at the beginning. Also in order for Saeed safely to enter her building he donned one of her black robes. The author does much to give the all-enveloping black robe meanings other than repression.


message 7: by Meli (last edited Sep 09, 2019 08:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Meli (melihooker) | 3391 comments I finished this weekend and look forward to discussing in the buddy read thread, but I landed on a 4.

The story is very unique, I think "dystopian" and "magical realism" can be a misleading for readers who avoid those genres. I would think of it as dystopian-lite, or magical realism-lite. Those tags aren't wrong, but I think non-fans of those subgenres can enjoy this book.

There is a lot to unpack in terms of immigration, false borders, etc., but at the heart is also a love story of how much a relationship and people individually can change.

I too found the incongruity of Nadia's dress to true character so fascinating. And when I was reminded of her dress found it jarring. In that respect it was very eye-opening because I thought how much conservative Muslim dress can mislead you to stereotype someone but how little you can truly know about them from simply looking at the surface.

Great writing and unique story, deserves all the 5 star ratings, but I came down to a 4 because sometimes I wasn't completely engaged. I was a little bored or apathetic in parts but I can't pinpoint why.


message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan Lewallen (susanlewallen) | 544 comments Lots of interesting discussion on this. I'm moving it up on my TBR list. And, BTW, I've had middle eastern friends who liked wearing their burkas for reasons of convenience. I don't think we should automatically think repression when we see them.


Theresa | 7401 comments Susan wrote: "Lots of interesting discussion on this. I'm moving it up on my TBR list. And, BTW, I've had middle eastern friends who liked wearing their burkas for reasons of convenience. I don't think we should..."

I agree that we should not...yet we do. And of course, that's because that's the link we have been given over and over with reference to it for too long.

There's been some amazing discussion here - thanks all! I'm going to try to post some of the discussion over to the buddy read now that Meli has finished as well. I'm a little stressed work though so it may take a couple of days.


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