Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Man Booker long list 2017)


“In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. For many days. His name was Saeed and her name was Nadia and he had a beard, not a full beard, more a studiously maintained stubble, and she was always clad from the tops of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe. Back then people continued to enjoy the luxury of wearing more or less what they wanted to wear, clothing and hair wise, within certain bounds of course, and so these choices meant something.”

These are the first three lines of this unusual book, and from the instant I read them I knew that I was going to read something pertinent.

Saeed and Nadia fall in love, of course, in their unnamed, war-torn town. When one day the signal to every mobile phone in the city vanished, internet activity was discontinued as well.

Nadia did not have a landline at home. Saeed’s landline had not worked in months. Deprived of portals to each other and to the world provided by their mobile phones, and confined to their apartments by the nighttime curfew, Nadia and Saeed, and countless others, felt marooned and alone and much more afraid.

The conditions of the city near Dubai worsen, until there is no electricity, nor piped water for the toilets to work. When they pay in order to escape, Saeed’s father will not leave because “he preferred to abide, in a sense, in the past, for the past offered more to him.”

I am gaining an awareness of the pain within a refugee camp.

Their funds were growing thinner, more than half the money with which they had left their city now gone. They better understood the desperation they saw in the camps, the fear in people’s eyes that they would be trapped here forever, or until hunger forced them back through one of the doors that led to undesirable places, the doors that were left unguarded, what people were nonetheless trying, especially those who had exhausted their resources, venturing through them to the same place from which they had come, or to another unknown place when they thought anything would be better than where they had been.

They had escaped from their city through a door to Mykonos through another portal to London, where they live with other refugees in a luxurious home while angered nativists outside gather outside. They end in a refugee camp outside of San Francisco.

The novel is labeled with a Romance sticker on its spine, but I suppose that must be in part because there was no sticker with the word Refugees nearby. For surely it is as much about leaving one’s country for another, which can never be properly called home, as it is about the relationship between this young couple.

But, the end result of this book in my mind is disappointment. The writing is beautiful, the concerns immediate. Yet, I wish the characters  could have withstood the adversity they faced to stand by one another; I wish that not everyone seems to succumb to “finding their own way” as if that is the most important thing.

8 thoughts on “Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Man Booker long list 2017)”

  1. Ive seen mixed reactions to this book too along the lines that he could have pushed the issue a little less predictably. Ive enjoyed his previous work so will probably still read this


    1. I thought the writing exquisite, and the predicament of the refugee so compelling. My issue lies with the couple themselves, so disappointed am I at the way they failed each other. I would have thought, in the midst of such bereavement of their displacement that they could have formed an unbreakable union.

      Perhaps I am too much of an idealist.

      Or, perhaps I believe that moral fiber ought to be more significant than circumstances.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. After the initial rush of love/lust I don’t think their relationship would have lasted in a peaceful environment. To me, they came together the way they did because of the traumatic circumstances. Sasha in particular was reluctant to continue, but safety came first in the end, not love.
    They kind of reminded me of Anne Frank & Peter – being in love with the only available option.

    I loved the doors too. It took the physical journey out of the story.


    1. I like your connection of this couple to Anne and Peter; they especially flourished in adverse circumstances. But for me, that is all the more reason to continue especially after having suffered through so much. I think Saeed was torn between his devout nature and his carnal one; I think Nadia was torn between her affection for him and her desire to explore the lesbian relationship. It just struck me as so sad that they couldn’t work it out; all failed relationships sadden me, though.

      My expectations are far too high.

      Wasn’t that “magical realism” of the doors wonderful? At first, I was blaming my poor lack of geography. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts about this book, Bellezza. It does sound like an unusual novel. Too bad you were left with a sense of disappointment (sorrow?) at the end.


    1. I think sorrow is a better word, Suko. Sorrow for the refugees, sorrow for the loss endured all around. The writing was quite lovely though, and I don’t want my judgements to stand in the way of anyone reading it. Perhaps the sorrow is exactly what we need to feel in this story.


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