‘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.’ Mohsin Hamid’s 2017 novel, Exit West, is a comment on the refugee crises, examining the very strained dichotomy of beginnings and endings; on the freedom to travel versus being forced to get away. Devoid of the gruesome aspects of migration, the book is as powerful as life itself.
Exit West is the story of Saeed and Nadia, who meet in an unknown war-torn city, fall in love and are forced to leave home through black doors that suddenly begin appearing – gateways that connect countries around the world. Some of the doors are heavily manned, while others lay ignored. As tensions mount, Saeed and Nadia step through one of these doors, leaving life as they know it, behind. Hamid uses the relationship between his protagonists to highlight the mental, emotional and physical impact, war and migration can have on human beings who are torn from their homelands.
It isn’t just the story that hits the reader; Hamid’s use of language is haunting. Reflecting on death, especially in countries riddled with conflict, he says, “… because life and its end are unpredictable, especially at a distance, where death seems to operate with such whimsical aim.” Constantly on the move, Nadia and Saeed’s relationship begins to unravel, each of them growing into different individuals for whom the meaning of life changes as their paths diverge. ‘… for the end of a couple is like a death,’, he writes, ‘and the notion of death, of temporariness, can remind us of the value of things…’ Hamid’s story is real, rife with heartbreak and hope and everything in between.