Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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Think Narnia, with different countries, war and politics…

This is not something I would’ve normally picked up. I normally go for a meatier sized book and I’m not normally drawn to books about war but it was on the book club reading list.

When I first started to read Exit West, I hated the writing style – there’s too much detail, with some parts overly explained and I just wanted to get on to the next part of the story.

It did grow on me though. The two main characters, Nadia and Saeed were a couple that I liked and quickly grew to care about as I read on. I noticed that all the other characters, apart from Saeed’s parents were anonymised. This centralised and focussed the plot more on these characters, making you really feel for them and their situation.

The story is initially set in some sort of South Asian country (it’s never named) and begins with the start of a young romance between Nadia, an independent woman living by herself and Saeed, still living with his parents and more the more cautious of the two.

The story follows their relationship as a war builds in their country. Death and destruction is desensitised a great deal throughout the book. One example of this is a group of young men, playing football with a severed head.

As the war gets worse (it’s never said who is fighting who) their relationship grows stronger and Nadia moves in with Saeed and his parents for safety.

It completely shocked me when Saeed’s mother gets killed by getting shot bending over to get an earring out of her car. It makes you think about how real this is in some parts of the world – doing a normal everyday activity that ends in devastation – this is their ‘normal’.

The black doors…this could have been made in to something so much more. I did love the concept with being a fantasy fan. Just as in Narnia, but it could be any door and not just a wardrobe. You walk through the door into another country, from Greece, London and even America.

There wasn’t much focus on the transportation – it just happened as if you are walking through your living room door into the kitchen. This might have been deliberate as the largest aspect of migration is the horrific journey and the people smuggling. It was as if this part was ignored, almost hopeful in a way that it is so easy to step into another country.

Another part that I questioned was that no one seemed scared by random black doors appearing. I heard that the author associated the black doors with mobile phone screens, that now transport us digitally to any part of the world.

The part of the book set in London disturbed me a bit. When I say London, I mean ‘London’. A fantasy kind of London. Everything about it seemed surreal – an empty Kennsington house described by Nadia as a ‘palace’ – housing 50 migrants. This was just one of the many houses.

We were described as the ‘natives’ and basically wanted to eradicate all of the migrants by gun point and force. I’d hope we wouldn’t be like this!

I’d give this book 3 stars as I’d liked to have seen more of a plot line around the doors but I guess they are just a device used by the writer to get us to the next part of the story. I read this book as part of a book group otherwise I’d never have picked this up – I’m pleased I did!

 

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