Exit West by Moshin Hamid
I’ve read a lot of books in 2017 but only reviewed half of them. Too many have not been worth reviewing; others I’ve been too lazy to review and then there are those I keep going back to that have been reviewed too many times already. The classics.
This book doesn’t fall into any of those categories, so I am excited to share my 2 cents worth here now. It’s new, it’s good and very much worth talking about.
Exit West is the fourth novel by Pakistani author, Moshin Hamid and was published this year. The novel is about refugees, migration and displacement set on a not-so-hard to imagine world scale.
Saeed and Nadia meet at night school in their unnamed homeland, which is teetering on the brink of war. There is tension from page one. Both very different characters with different perspectives and priorities, Exit West charts their changing relationship in the context of fear, war and dislocation.
There is a touch of the Underground Railroad in this book, with imaginary doors and gates through which refugees travel around the world. The first time the “doors” were mentioned, I thought I’d missed something had to double back a few pages but when I realised it was just a metaphor, things started to make more sense.
There are a few other parts of the story not to be taken literally and many questions left unanswered. The fiction is far from fact but there is just enough realism to make you stop and imagine the horror and uncertainty that would be your lot as a refugee.
Hamid’s writing is very matter of fact, with no dense descriptions, over-elaborate back stories or flowery prose. People are killed and assaulted in a single sentence and sadly, the stories of Saeed and Nadia move on just like their lives. His style powerfully conveys the casual brutality that shapes his characters’ lives.
I am grateful to Hamid for confronting the topic of refugees without politics, judgement or even detail. The book reminds me of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”
And that’s my 2 cents worth