Exit West | Mohsin Hamid
A little while ago, I discovered that my office has a little community library. It’s just a little box but I welcome libraries of all shapes and forms. I saw Exit West among the books in the box and having seen it over social media, I just couldn’t resist.
Exit West follows two characters, Saeed and Nadia as they connect in their unnamed country which is becoming an increasingly more dangerous place to live. As the book goes along, the country falls deeper and deeper into war and rumours begin to spread of doors opening and leading to other parts of the world, wormholes that citizens can use to escape and seek refuge. Exit West presents the question: what if you could just walk away from the mess of ideological war through a magical door?
I think the brilliance of this book – and why it is so relevant to the current political zeitgeist – is because the setting is so anonymous. It could be one of several war-torn countries that the West has involved itself in. And, with doors opening all over the world with no real explanation, refugees are crossing borders in their thousands. This is a brilliant plot device – can you imagine the kind of fear and hostility something like this would spark? The refugees manage to create a life in the West without the world going to pot. People have been migrating for a millennia, humans learn how to adapt. There’s a brief exploration of what might the reaction be if these doors existed and a community around London forms called the London Halo which is also fascinating.
It is written almost like a fairy tale, which would normally be right up my street, but in this case I think it took away from the heavy subject that the book was exploring. The harsh reality is that refugees were drowning when this book was published and the West is still dropping bombs, directly affecting civilians. This is an optimistic book however I felt it could be optimistic and retain more depth. We’re told in paragraphs that things happen, events summarised in pages without going into them as much as I wanted, especially with the latter half of the story once the doors start opening. The prose style meant it felt like we were getting snapshots rather than the full picture.
I raced through this book and it is beautifully written but ultimately I think the book was a little underwhelming.