Book Review: Exit West

-by Mohsin Hamid

-review by Saumitra Rai

We as species, as families and as individuals want to survive. That is our basic need. But survival with happiness, dignity and grace (though secondary requirements) are not in any way less vital. And living space (not just land, but thriving land) is the basic need for survival. The conflict over living space is not new, though it may seem like that given the headlines in the last five years. From the early days of colonization, to the genocide in Germany and Trump’s plan to make America great again, all find their way to the central question of ownership (or rightful ownership) of a region. The fight between the deserving and the non-deserving, has led to bloodshed and exposed human’s capacity for evil time after time. Nevertheless, this problem has emerged in a grave manner in our ‘globalized’ world in the form of refugee crisis and demands attention.

Mohsin Hamid’s ‘Exit West’ is a study of this disease -its symptoms, its diagnosis and its trail. Cure is left to you. Bordering on refugee crisis Exit West is a love story, between Saeed and Nadia, the only named characters in a book overflowing with many. Meeting in a nameless troubled city, their lives navigate to become one single ship, that travels in turbulent tides.

Mohsin Hamid is a man of simple words, nothing particularly ornamental about either his choice of words or his way of writing. But still (or perhaps because of this very reason) he promises to keep you hooked. His lack of sophistication should not be mistaken as amateurish as his sentences are meticulously framed and very precise in their expression. There is one significant example of magical realism, which feels alien (but happily bearable) because of the simplicity of the rest of the book. One very distinct feature of his writing is that he focuses on feelings or emotions way more than incidents they are a result of. He may announce a death in passing only to describe the aftermath in pages. This technique left this reader in shock (at times) and I think that is what Hamid intended.

One feat of Hamid is that he makes his characters unusually familiar to a reader. Never having lived in the state of Saeed and Nadia, I still felt like them even at times when they went through nightmares of kind I haven’t even dreamt of. The character of Saeed feels very familiar as he seems like a cultured Indian man. While Nadia is like the modern-day independent Bollywood heroine minus her frivolity and glamour.

Though the main plot concerns them, there are numerous one-page stories of nameless people scattered throughout the book. Their purpose is to test our notions of right or wrong, of deserving or undeserving, when it comes to migration. At one point the author asks ‘Aren’t we all migrants, migrating through time and space?’ though it may look like a yes/no question, the answer you give has serious implications.

Writing – 4/5
Background – 4/5
Character Development- 5/5
Overall – 4/5

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