Monday, October 15, 2018

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Narrated by Mohsin Hamid
Published March 2017 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
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 remarkable 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.

My Thoughts:
Mohsin Hamid is always inventive with his writing, with a singular voice. He tells stories about people most Americans don’t know about, lives we can’t imagine. There is always something to be learned from his books, a new way to look at the world. In Exit West, Hamid focuses on the lives of refugees in the various places they find themselves, not on their journeys, which we know are perilous. What is life like in the camps? How does life change depending on the country they find themselves in? What changes when the refugee community starts to change the balance in the areas where they're located? I seriously always feel smarter when I finish one of Hamid's books.
“It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class—in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding—but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are puttering 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 when it does.”? 
One of the things that really got me thinking in Exit West was Nadia's wearing of an abaya, despite being an independent, modern woman who isn't religious. Nadia doesn't wear an abaya for religious reasons, nor for modesty. She chooses to wear an abaya as a barrier, particularly to keep men from bothering her. It's her choice. Which makes me wonder how many of the women I've seen wearing abaya's are doing less because it's required and more because it is their choice. In this day and age of #MeToo, it's interesting to consider that some women may just decide it's easier to hide from men.

Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist blew me away. I wanted this one to do the same. It did, after all, appear on many "best of" lists for 2017. But, whereas Fundamentalist built to an ending that left me sort of stunned, this one  just left me sad. Hamid doesn’t do happy endings; I’ve certainly learned that by now. So I suppose I might have suspected where this book was going and I'm not sure where I wouldn't have wanted him to go with the story. Still...

Hamid always narrates his books and his reading style mirrors his writing style perfectly. I’ve grown used to it; but, when I tried to listen to the book with my husband, he found the book really odd which I felt was mostly due to Hamid’s detached, flat style. Listening may not be for everyone. But books like Exit West should be.


  1. It gave me plenty to think about and the way it was presented... allowed anyone to read it because it was rather light in the telling. BUT, at first I was like, what is the deal with these damn doors? LOL.

  2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist has been on my TBR shelf for what seems like forever. I really need to give it a try. I have this one on my TBR shelf as well and am looking forward to it. Especially having read your review, Lisa. Thank you.

  3. I like the sound of this, although I didn't like 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' enough to really remember it

  4. I think I'm with you on the end of this one. It isn't stunning, really, it's just kind of sad. It feels inevitable, but also not the way you wanted things to go. It's a big, important book, but just kind of melancholy.