Exit West. By Mohsin Hamid.
I travel quite extensively in my vehicle for work and the radio presets are NPR stations and occasionally 880 for traffic updates. Often, after an an especially titillating interview with an author, I will seek out the book just discussed and have, for the most part, been happy with the choices. Last spring I remembered hearing an interesting interview with Mohsin Hamid about his most recent book, Exit West, but for some reason never picked it up. A few days ago, the book was presented as a gift from my daughter and I devoured it in a matter of hours. On the surface, the novel tells the story of a modern-day young couple falling in love in a war-torn city, ostensibly somewhere in the Middle East. As conditions deteriorate around them, they discover the existence of magical doors which can transport them in seconds to other parts of the world. But, and here’s a crucial point, they are not the only ones who discover these doors. As one would logically predict (in this illogical story) the places to which this couple escape soon are transformed into teeming refugee encampments of the recently displaced with all of the baggage (literal and figurative) that accompanies such mass migration: Xenophobia, infrastructure collapse, scarcity of resources, tribalism, etc. The genre best describing Exit West would be political (or specifically immigration) fiction but the lines between fiction and current events become blurred when today’s news features the ongoing crisis in Syria and the relatively new crisis in the West Bank. Exit West received numerous international literary awards and is both timeless and completely relatable. Hamid has authored other books with identity and experiences of the dispossessed as the central themes. Interestingly, the takeaway in this novel can be interpreted as either dystopic or cautiously optimistic - making this book particularly appealing for a book discussion…something I look forward to doing with my daughter in the very near future.