review of exit west | mohsin hamid

“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

I read this book when ICE raids broke out around the country. I read this line as a woman in Colorado barricaded herself inside a church for protection from deportation. Hamid’s book takes place at an unspecified future date, but it’s timeliness makes for uneasy reading.

A quick synopsis for those have yet to read Hamid’s latest novel: A young woman in an unnamed town that closely resembles Syria, falls in love with a young man down the street. Around them, war has broken out–buildings crumble, bombs echo, the city falls. But more than war, Hamid’s book focuses on love. How relationships are born, and how they fade. The book dabbles in magic realism, subtle to the point that it seems potentially true, and it deals with a good deal of difficult subjects–of growing older, enduring, of being an outcast, of immigration, of home, and most of all loss.

my review:

I read this book in one sitting, which may sound impressive but shouldn’t as it rings in at a measly 100-something pages. I tend to stay away from short books, under the whole “bang for your buck” premise, but Hamid is an expert storyteller, and there is a lot of value packed inside this novella. Some of you may be familiar with his first novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was turned into a movie starring Kate Hudson in a really bad brunette wig. That book dealt with a Pakistani man in a post 9/11 America, and when I say “post,” I mean immediately following the destruction of The Twin Towers. Where the Reluctant Fundamentalist shows a man returning to a home that is not really home, Exit West deals with the opposite. In fact, he could have called it the Reluctant Immigrant, and been just fine.

what i liked:

I am not an immigrant, I will hopefully never know what it’s like to have to leave my home involuntarily. It can be difficult at times to empathize with scenarios that are so fundamentally different than what you have, or ever will experience. This book, though helps illustrate the humanity often wrongfully stripped from immigrants or refugees.

It shows that war zones were once the site of loving homes. That behind boarded up windows, exist lives attempting to continue on as normal. It also shows that for every immigrant leaving home, there are countless men and women left behind. That with any form of immigration is an unfathomable degree of loss.

Aside from that, Hamid does a really cool macro/micro exploration of immigration. He shows the broader picture, he depicts civil unrest, countries closing borders (or in this case doors), massive refugee villages rising up over night to the disdain of the host nation. But he also shows it on a small scale. It’s interesting to watch this couple interact as they move from place-to-place. It is interesting to watch them grow and change outside of where they are. Love blossoms and fades even while you endure a larger hardship. He doesn’t marginalize the importance of a small relationship in the context of something much larger.

what i didn’t like:

Honestly, I found this book pretty close to perfect. I give it five out of five stars. What did you think?

Buy it here.

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