Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West4.5ish stars.

Hamid somehow manages to make this intimate and universal; it’s magical but also so grounded in reality; it’s melancholy but hopeful. It’s about freedom, connection, struggle and discovery. And it just hit home for me.

I was engaged from the beginning. The metaphors and speculation made me ponder without feeling like I was being compelled to pick sides or consider a specific view. What would happen if thousands of migrants from various countries suddenly appeared in various other countries all over the globe, crossing borders with little possibility of resistance? How would the rest of the world react? How would the migrants proceed? How would it change the face of the world moving forward? The doors themselves don’t need to be explained as anything more than metaphor and as devices to make the transport possible, that’s not the point. In this story it doesn’t matter as much how it happened as it does that it happened and what happens next?

The characterizations made me sympathize without feeling like the characters were written specifically to elicit sympathy. The choice to tell the story through the experiences of only two people, effectively denying anyone else substance, is an indulgent one, and one that I’m sure is frustrating to a lot of readers. To me, it demonstrates Hamid’s understanding of human nature. The connection between pious Saeed and prickly Nadia in the face of such unstable circumstances is beautiful but unidealized- optimistic but tenuous.

There are the obvious political connotations if you look for them, but I’ll leave everyone else to interpret them how they will because they didn’t affect my reading experience one way or the other. If nothing else, I’ll say this novel humanizes immigration in positive and negative ways, which I think is important regardless of your feelings on the subject.

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