Exit West

The Man Booker Short list, Kirkus Prize finalist – This is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. It seems this novel is the talk of the town… literary world. A love story of sorts. It has been slow to get into my hands since its landing on my shelf back in March of this year. It has been described as many things. A timely tale of Immigration, the issues surrounding mass migration and its politics. A book of magical realism with doors as portals whisking persons from east to west. A timely examination of a post Brexit/Trump world. A telling of the near future. An #OwnVoices Novel. Sure, it has these elements. It seems to express a love story, woven into the present Middle Eastern environment, Europe and the U.S. as seen through the eyes of its main characters, Nadia and Saeed, as they navigate the geographical, social and political climate they traverse while exploring their relationship and personal growth.

Whew!  That is a lot to pack into a slim novel. Lots of big ideas. Yet all the real meat seems to be kept at the edge and never really examined – other than their relationship.  People grow together with a passion and then as the fire dissipates, it becomes something else completely. Nadia, with an eye towards the future, opportunity and independence. Saeed, with an eye on faith, family and traditional values. They are drawn together amid the turmoil around them.

The doors – a metaphor more than magical realism. They are representative of a device to move the story along. In life doors open and close. This idea was fleshed out nicely. Though if this were truly an immigrant story, the migration part would surely be important. (My opinion only.) Within there are many great pieces of writing, “but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” A thought my own wife expressed through tears behind a bathroom door for many years.

The relationships, and the life of them, are really the story. We come together and we either grow together or grow apart. Society is no different. The idea that, “…we love dearly what we ultimately cannot protect,” (paraphrased) speaks to both. It seems that people, in our micro relationships can smother the very thing we want to protect when we feel it being threatened. Or that we allow space between us and present opportunity for the separation to build a wedge between us. Either can be said of our society or our personal relationships.

There was much to examine as the story progresses. The scenery changes. The exterior forces impact. The people evolve. Time marches on. The whole world changes in the space of a few hundred pages. Yet, we never now why or how or to what purpose. We only learn of how it impacts these two people and the relationship between them. So, as I close this book I am left with many questions. Perhaps that was the authors intention. Now, if there were only some answers.

“And so their memories took on potential, which is of course how our greatest nostalgias are born.”

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