Hamid’s Exit West does what every good novel should. It reflects reality in such a way that you’re equal parts horrified and intrigued.
When I picked up Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, I had no idea it had only been published ten days prior. I saw it was popular, the included summery was intriguing, and the cover was pretty. Normally I’m more picky then that, but I wanted to go with something different. And considering I was only about 33% sure what genre this novel fell into at any given time, I figured that counted as different.
Saeed and Nadia are average citizens of their unnamed country ($50 it’s somewhere in the Middle East). They met while taking a night class and went for coffee. They text, use social media, and get take out. He lives with his parents and she has her own place with a rooftop patio. The only problem is that the whole world is on the brink of a crash brought on by war. (Spoiler alertttttt)
Reasons I thought it was a dystopian novel: the fighting does break out and it effects everything, particularly technology. There is an emphasis placed on technology and how it allows these two to interact with both each other, and others. This becomes particularly important when trying to learn about the safety of extended family members and sharing information for survival. Even toward the end of the book, scrolling through social media just to fill time is an important factor. When reading an inside flap, mentioning war and technology seem like a solid reason to put it in the dystopian realm.
Reasons I thought it might be sci fi: when the fighting breaks out, people move to other nations and across continents through doors. Why technology and war are so linked in my brain, I jumped to sci fi instead of magic is another discussion. None the less, these doors act as portals that can allow you to move great distances in an instant. The only problem is that they’re kinda rare, illegal, and you aren’t told what country is on the other side. But Saeed and Nadia are desperate to stay alive, and so after a secret meeting in an abandoned mall, they go through their door.
Reasons I thought it could be a modernist novel: They end up moving several times and while it is not so for many people they know, they live. And eventually negotiations are conducted and the battles come to an end. Nadia and Saeed finally settle, for a time, in San Francisco and learn to rebuild their lives. Spoiler alert 2.0: they don’t stay together.
But none of these really fit. In the best possible way, Hamid touches on all of these genres without being restrained by any of them. It’s not a dystopia, it doesn’t seem like a ‘slippery slope’ distant future, i’s a very possible reality these days. When soldiers move into a town, an older man asks if it’s “the Mexicans or the Muslims” to blame. That is horrifying. It’s also not a sci fi, beyond the doors there isn’t anything particularly advanced or magical about it. And it isn’t a modernist novel, the war ends a bit anti climatically and the focus stays on Nadia and Saeed’s relationship.
This inability to fit Hamid’s work into one category is refreshing and freeing. Unencumbered, it tells the exact story it was designed to do.
Was it perfect? No. I did have a few issues with the plot, and somehow there were almost too many details. But overall it was an incredible read.
Conclusion because we’re writing a tenth grade paper: If you can read it without analyzing it in relation to your own life and as an incredibly apt social commentary, I’ll give you $50.
Just kidding, I’m too poor for that. But read it any way.