by Mohsin Hamid
Over the past couple of years, I have become quite a fan of Mohsin Hamid. His books are insightful and entertaining. His reputation as a writer of great fiction is well established and well deserved, so I embark on each new book with high expectations.
Opening in an unnamed city, presumably in the middle or far east, Exit West is a love story with a hint of science fiction/fantasy. As their lives are shattered by war and intimidation, Saeed and Nadia meet at college and soon become lovers. Whilst their relationship blossomed, stories began to circulate of mysterious black doors appearing all over the city, offering an opportunity to start a new life elsewhere. That is where the science fiction comes in. Individuals passing through these doors are transported, via a companion doorway in another location.
Saeed and Nadia are amongst those who pay to use one of these doors to escape from the death and destruction that surrounds them. Looking for a new life leads the couple to make several such trips, taking in Greece, London and California.
Each of the places they visit offers a mix of opportunities and troubles. As the number of these black doors grows, the number of travellers grows with them, bringing with it increasing pressure on the points of arrival.
The subject of immigration is a very relevant one at the moment and this book taps into that, but from the point of view of the immigrants themselves. Saeed and Nadia face many difficult decisions and their relationship is tested many times before they eventually find themselves somewhere to call home.
Although this book is very different from his previous works, it does share their intriguing insights into human nature. His characters are all well-formed and very easy to feel empathy for. Leaving your home behind to step into the unknown is a daunting prospect and would test the resilience of any individual doing so. In Exit West, Hamid asks some very difficult questions about not only immigration but also about tolerance and acceptance.
I admit that I was not sure about the concept of the doorways. Not that I have any issues with the idea of instantaneous interdimensional transportation. As an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, these concepts are not new to me, but I have never come across them in the context they appear here. I can see that many of Hamid’s regular readers might find the idea of the doorways distracting and off-putting. For myself, they were simply a convenient device to enable the more intense and intriguing examination of human nature and xenophobia.
Mohsin Hamid’s standing as a great writer remains undiminished. An interesting, insightful and novel that only goes to prove what a good writer he is.