Mohsin Hamid’s new novel is a poignant tale for these times. Exit West is a love story tinged with magical realism that offers a glimpse at the chaos and stress refugees endure trying to find a safe place to call home.
Nadia and Saeed meet at an evening class in an unknown country that is on the verge of civil war. Nadia shrouds herself in long black robes, making Saeed think she must be conservative and religious. The shy and sweet Saeed soon learns that while Nadia wears the robes to shield herself from unwanted advances, she is fiercely independent, fiery and drives a motorcycle. He is attracted to her strength and beauty, even though she is not religious and he is a devout Muslim.
Their relationship grows despite the chaos in their country. The militants take over parts of their city, and the government answers with air strikes. People cannot escape the conflict because visas are no longer given. Soon the Internet and cellular phone service is gone, leaving Nadia and Sahid feeling marooned and alone. Businesses close and homes are shattered. Food and money become scarce while people disappear or die in the fighting. Nadia and Sahid begin to hear rumors of doors that can take them away from this death trap of a country, if you have enough cash. They eventually find a contact who offers to take them to one of these magical portals. The couple eventually escape their dangerous homeland to Greece, only to face other challenges as poor refugees in a strange land.
At 231 pages, Exit West packs a wallop with Hamid’s beautiful writing and moving scenes. Hamid, who was born in Pakistan and also has lived in England and the United States, offers a fresh take on refugees’ struggles. His book is often sad, but he leaves the reader with hope.