Friday, October 6, 2017

Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

Exit West
Title: Exit West
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publication Date: 3/7/17
Pages: 231
Date Completed: 9/22/17

Summary: Saeed and Nadia are very different people. Yet, they are drawn to one another as their country falls apart. They make the decision to flee together, tying them together for the foreseeable future. 

What I Thought: I first heard about this book on my favorite podcast, Pantsuit Politics. They had a bookstore owner on to talk about books to read in our modern political climate. This was one of a couple fiction recommendations the guest had. It then became the Pantsuit Politics book club pick for September, so I knew I had to read it now. 

It tells the story of refugees, two specifically, but really the book is about the general emotional experience of refugees. Hamid avoids getting into specifics of a refugee's flight by placing his characters in a world of magical realism. They go from place to place through doors. Some doors are guarded, some are hidden, all seem to appear unexpectedly. At first, that mechanism feels a bit odd, but I ended up really liking it.

I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Hamid a few years back and definitely can see some parallels in the writing of both novels, although Exit West felt a little lighter to me. Both stories are about emotional journeys, but the ending of this journey is...maybe not happier, but certainly less violent. 

I thought the book was really beautiful. I'm a strong believer that reading fiction can be just as if not more powerful than nonfiction. It teaches us empathy and this book does that well. Hamid did a really nice job showing the emotional experience of being a refuge. The reason I ended up liking the magical realism of the doors is because I felt that choice made the story more character-driven than process-driven; for me, that was the right strategy. I think the way Hamid chose to write the book really allows the reader to be immersed in the emotions, rather than the suspense of escape. Both have a place, but he's clearly aiming to achieve a specific empathetic response, not write a thriller.

The ending made me a bit sad, but also felt very real. Big emotional journeys do not always mean people are journeying in the same direction. I appreciated that Hamid kept this from being strictly a love story. Again, that felt like an intentional decision to have all the emotional energy of the book be about the life of a refugee, not a young lover. 

I definitely recommend this one. It may be a little outside your box. Hamid has a unique tone to his writing. However, I think it's well worth the step off the beaten path, particularly as we continue to grapple with refugee crises as a global community. 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yeah, possibly. I'm going to suggest it for my book club.
Other Books By Mohsin Hamid: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

A Reduced Review: A beautiful use of magical realism to portray the complex emotional experience of being a refugee. 

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