Book Review: Exit West

I finished this book last night and wasn’t sure what to make of it.  It is billed as the story of two young people, Saeed and Nadia, who fall in love just as their city erupts into civil war and daily life becomes increasingly violent, unpredictable and unsafe.  Rumors of doors that lead straight to faraway places start to circulate, then prove to be real when Saeed and Nadia step through one.  To me, it sounded like magical realism, but that turned out not to be entirely true.

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Yes, walking through a door and finding yourself in Greece or London or Marin County gives off some fantasy vibes, but this book is so much more about the brutality of life as a refugee than it is about magic doors.  These doors are purely a plot device that allow author Mohsin Hamid to skip over the journey from one country to another and focus more on what happens to and between Saeed and Nadia when their surroundings change.

The magic of this book is how real it is.  It is fixed in real locations (well, except for their home country, which is never named) and depicts real life so clearly.  Saeed and Nadia go to school, they eat together in cafés, they have jobs, they scroll through social media and it’s impossible not to relate to all of this or to imagine yourself dealing with what they deal with.

I struggle to decide if this novel is a commentary on refugees and the migrant experience or a love story, but in the end, I guess it doesn’t have to be one or the other.  I loved how subtle this book was.  It is moving in a quiet way and the eventual break-up between Saeed and Nadia is both heartbreaking and expected.  Despite the relative sadness of this book, it ends on a somewhat optimistic note and I really appreciated that.  In the end though, I still feel like I have a lot to think about on this one.

What are you reading now?