Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Originally published: March 2017

Author: Mohsin Hamid

Published by: Penguin Random House

Genre: Literary Fiction

Length: 229 pages

Reading dates: 20-24 October 2018

In a unknown city (but based somewhere like Syria), civil war starts and bombs and assassinations become part of life there. Saeed and Nadia meet at an evening class. Saeed is described as an independent minded man with a good education who still lives with his parents. Nadia appears to be a devout Muslim woman, wearing a burka, but we soon discover she doesn’t pray and instead wears it so men leave her alone. She works for an insurance company, lives alone (claiming to her landlady to be a widow), enjoys records, rides a moped and is partial to drugs. They begin a relationship but as violence worsens they start to look for ways to escape.

Hearing rumours of mysterious black doors appearing all over the city, they make arrangements to escape, and eventually leave behind their homeland and by stepping through a door appear in the Greek island of Mykonos. Doors have appeared all over the world and soon migration becomes the new normal.

The effect doors had on people altered as well. Rumors had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumors to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.

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Picture credit: The New Yorker

I really enjoyed the first half of this book – the descriptions of a war torn country were heart-breaking and there are challenges for Nadia and Saeed faced when trying to continue their relationship when the electricity fails and they can’t use their phones. Once they left their homeland behind though, I lost interest. I liked the idea of the doors – to be able to escape without the horrors of the life-or-death journeys many refugees face enables the book to move along quickly. And it captures well that things are not easy for the refugees: they are outcasts in the new countries they arrive in, often struggling for shelter and food and are often still in danger.

For some reason (I’m afraid I don’t know why!) Hamid writes in really, really long sentences and I think this hindered my enjoyment as my mind would start to wander and I’d have to go back and reread bits. But the book itself is quite short and I’m glad I read it as it made me think about the refugee crisis and the migrants in the centre of it.

This was a book club pick and some people adored the book and thought it was amazing while others were similar to me and lost interest as they soon as Nadia and Saeed went through their first door.

Thank you to Penguin Books for sending this to me.

About the author:

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Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid is the author of four novels, Moth Smoke , The Reluctant Fundamentalist , How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia , and Exit West , and a book of essays, Discontent and Its Civilizations .

His writing has been featured on bestseller lists, adapted for the cinema, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, selected as winner or finalist of twenty awards, and translated into thirty-five languages.

Born in Lahore, he has spent about half his life there and much of the rest in London, New York, and California.

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