Mohsin Hamid's novel "Exit West" has gained recognition worldwide. It even landed its righteous place amongst Barack Obama's favorite books of 2017. Hamid also earned recognition in The Man Booker Prize 2017 Longlist. The book opens in a "city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not openly at war."
I picked the book up in a Pakistani bookstore, in a section labeled "Modern Love Stories." After I completed the book, I realized there are so many genres that it can be categorized into. I suppose it is a love story in its essence, although not in its entirety.
Hamid knits a tale of two migrants, Saeed and Nadia, in what seems like a "boy-meets-girl" story at first glance. However, the story develops with many layers around the modern-day refugee crisis and is far from your typical love story.
"Exit West" is a concoction of magical realism mixed with historical fiction. The story takes place in an unnamed country in a world at war. Saeed and Nadia decide that this war-ravaged country is not one they see themselves in and decide to migrate elsewhere. However, this in itself is a task as immigration during wartime can equate to a death sentence if you are caught. Saeed's friend informs him about doors which serve as portals to other nations. Together, he and Nadia buy their way through one of these doors in the prospect to start over. Nadia immediately notices that there are many other refugees from different nations and in that "everyone was foreign, and so, in a sense, no one was.”
Hamid also explores how one has to sever all ties with the people back home. He writes "when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” This is true for everyone and anyone who has left their home behind as one is faced with new obligations and doesn't always have the means to go back home. For Saeed, however, the sentiment is literal. He leaves his family behind after failing to convince them to come with him. He knows that in light of current events and war taking lives without a warning, he might not have anyone to come back to.
The novel delves into the idea of borders and in Hamid's dystopia, there are none. All nations are connected through the aforementioned portals, and everyone is a migrant or a hybrid from the nations that used to be. Hamid takes current issues such as race, religion, and gender and successfully merges them into the complex world that he paints in "Exit West." It is a must read for anyone who is looking for a unique perspective on the refugee crisis.