Book Review: Exit West

Exit West is penned down by Mohsin Hamid, a veteran Pakistani author who has also written bestselling books such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke, How to Get Filthy Rich is Raising Asia and Discontent and its Civilization. Hamid currently resides in London and New York, and writes extensively for New York Times, the Guardian, and New York Review of Books.

Exit West perfectly encapsulates, love, fear, loss with the idea of ‘home’ in its phenomenal portrayal of two young individuals falling in love in a city swollen with war and chaos. “It [seem] odd,” Hamid writes, “that in crisis teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class – in this class on corporate identity and product branding – but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.” He locates the story of the two lovers from an eye of war and disruption which instantly makes Exit West an extremely apt and relevant book for todays world.

Saeed and Nadia are the two protagonists who have deprioritized love, but they can’t help and grow fondness for each other as they cling to one another for safety and reassurance. These two believe that “war would alone erode the facade of them,” but when the time comes to make a choice between fleeing from a collapsing city and identifying “home” they both happen to do it together. Hamid describes “Nadia and Saeed, [along with] countless others, felt marooned and alone and much more afraid,“ with the changing times.

It is here when it is important to understand and appreciate Hamid’s writing style which elegant and fluid, with long sentences that encapsulating the myriad contradictions of his characters’ lives. The structuring of the book hints at Hamid trying to encompass long, unfiltered, uninterrupted thoughts of the characters as well as of himself through the narration. He weaves together a story with riveting characters that remain with the readers even after the book has ended.

Hamid’s technique actually adds strength to his narration. More than just keeping up with the story timeline, he has made sure the reader familiarize themselves with the characters of Saeed and Nadia. He has also made sure he not only plays out the evolution of the character but also reflects on the very real phases in relationships of a Father/son; Stranger/father; Lover/refugee etc.

Hamid continues to add touches of poetry, philosophy and futuristic unrealism in his narration in the latter half of the book. He vividly describes Saeed and Nadia’s contrasting experiences through war as, “fighter-bombers grated hoarsely through the sky. “ and “large bombs dropped from the sky and explod[ing] with an awesome power that brings to mind the nature itself.” He further depicts differences in Saeed’s shy, and introvert temperament and Nadia’s fierce independence through their point of view of war. He notes, “Air strikes were called in by the army on both occasions, shattering Saeed’s bathroom window while he was in the shower, and shaking like an earthquake Nadia and her lemon tree as she sat on her terrace smoking a joint.”

Hamid endeavors to portray the characters to be real and relevant in today’s world without having to contextualize their origins. Later, in the book however, Hamid identifies locations such as London, San Francisco, Greece, Dubai and Mykonos in particular to show where Saeed and Nadia chose to escape through magical backdoors and become refugees, in hopes to find their place in the world.

Exit West, then becomes a book that beautiful demonstrates how “in times of violence, there is always that first acquaintance or intimate of ours, who, when they are touched, makes what had seemed like a bad dream suddenly, evisceratingly real.” Hamid beautifully manages to evoke the sense of imagination which achieves a chord that reverberates in one’s long after he/she has finished reading it. The book is recommended to all.

Author: Mohsin Hamid
Price: Rs.995
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
Available at: Liberty Bookstores

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