“Later he suspected something else. That they were ashamed, and that they did not yet know that shame, for the displaced, was a common feeling, and that there was, therefore, no particular shame in being ashamed.”
– Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
‘Exit West’ for me was a book which I had high expectations from but unfortunately, it did not turn out to be as great. I read ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Hamid back in 2018 and I loved that book to bits but I can’t say the same about ‘Exit West’. The book was interesting in some parts and quite dull in others which made me feel like putting it down but I made it till the end and I was happy that the ending did not disappoint.
At the forefront, ‘Exit West’ is a story about refugees, about displacement and migration. But if we delve deeper, it is about love, separation, about two human beings, Saeed and Nadia who were very much in love with each other and how their circumstances and situations affected how they loved and what they need by essentially changing the people they were which in turn affects their relationship. They hold on to each other and try really hard to go back to being what they once were to and for each other and there are times when as a reader you feel terrible for them and their relationship. You know that feeling when you know two people are made for each other and they are comfortable by each other’s presence but their situations have not even been… let’s say normal, for the lack of a better term and the reader can feel that there’s a void and they can’t fill it no matter how hard they try. Yes, that’s how Saeed and Nadia’s relationship felt like to me.
The book starts in an unnamed country, presumably, Afghanistan and the country is in the middle of a crisis. The regime is oppressive and most people are looking for a way out and when it becomes too much to take, Saeed and Nadia also want to leave this behind and start life afresh. They meet a man who promises to get them out and now they are on the move. They move from one country to another through metaphorical doors and what that does to them as human beings is hard to even read. Both of them are irreparably changed and damaged by forces beyond their control.
The plot is interesting and a few chapters, in the beginning are fast-paced and written in a very thought-provoking manner. But the book slows down in the middle which makes it dull. Add to that a few grammatical errors which I don’t know are because of the author’s or the editor’s laziness. Also, there were times I felt that there were too many details about the destinations that Saeed and Nadia migrated to. Now I know that the author might have done this to develop the premise but it was downright annoying sometimes. However, the interesting storyline and the author’s creative storytelling somewhat compensates. In the end, I would say, it will be better if you picked up ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Hamid and not ‘Exit West’.