Book Mini-Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
“We are all migrants through time.”
What an incredibly timely book. Mohsin Hamid’s book Exit West was published last spring, and honestly, I don’t think there has been a book that has resonated more with the immigration issue right now than this one. Exit West is the story of Nadia and Saeed, whose unnamed home country is being ravaged by militants. But as their country’s safety worsens, doors begin to open up that take you to a different part of the world. These magic portals reminded me of Narnia, but with a political twist.
Nadia and Saeed are classmates, but eventually begin a romantic relationship. Nadia is estranged from her family, but Saeed still lives with his parents and is very close to them. As their country falls apart, Saeed and Nadia decide to take one of these doors to start a new life in a new part of the world. When Nadia and Saeed venture through the first door, they arrive in Mykonos. But they quickly learn that just because they have left one hard situation does not mean their lives will improve in a new place. Luckily, they encounter a refugee camp in Mykonos where they barter for food and goods. But things are not as rosy as they had hoped. There are militants still wandering around, and Nadia and Saeed are quickly running out of money. So after a while in Mykonos, they take another door to London, where they stay for months. As Nadia and Saeed adjust to life in refugee camps and in London, they begin to realize that they have separate desires. Saeed finds himself gravitating toward people from their own country, while Nadia actively seeks out those who are different from she and Saeed. They spend more time apart than together, and it begins to strain their relationship.
Exit West is one of the few immigration-centric books I have read (I plan to read more!), but it made me think about so many things I have never had to think about. When a person immigrates to a new place, does she seek out those of her own culture like Saeed? Or does he embrace different cultures like Nadia? If a couple is together in their home country, how does the stress of a move impact their relationship? Does it make them stronger or does it tear them apart? These are things I have never had to think about, but I could not stop thinking about while reading Exit West.
I enjoyed Exit West, but I had a hard time with the door concept. I am not one for fantasy or science fiction (with the exception of Harry Potter), but I do not have anything against magical realism. In this case, it makes the immigration process faster and more interesting, but I felt like it was a bit too much. However, if you are looking for a timely book on immigration with a fresh take, then pick up Exit West. I give it 3.5 stars.
What are some books on immigration that you recommend?