Exit West – Book Review -Author Mohsin Hamid
In our last blog we talked about Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant ” where it was a fabled world, set in a different era with a very contemporary story Today, I would like to share with you another much reviewed best seller EXIT WEST by Author Mohsin Hamid where the story begins at an undisclosed geographical location possibly Middle East ,considering the names of protagonists and the setting .Their “Geography is destiny” and their life is sad , harsh and transient .But magical realism gives the characters imaginative escapes or exits to a peaceful, picturesque western world .
Author really needs no introduction as he writes regularly for the New York Times , the Guardian and the New York Review of Books . He is of Pakistani descent and has lived in New York and London . I have read his previous two best sellers , The Reluctant Fundamentalist [Short listed for the Man Booker Prize] and Moth Smoke .
“Moth Smoke” was his first work of fiction ,where author analyses the ugly paradoxes of the developing world in which our protagonist begins the process of self annihilation ,like a moth to the flame .
In his second novel “The Reluctant Fundamentalist “ protagonist Changez takes an inward journey of metamorphosis and reaffirms his decision of relocation to his Native land of Pakistan from the mirage of abundance and glitz and glamor of America
In his third novel , Exit West , author transitions by exiting to West .
The story “Exit West “ , begins in an unnamed city “Teetering at the edge of abyss ” . Impending taking over of the city by militants is the back drop . Though the residents of the city are trying to maintain a facade of normalcy but gradually they are being stripped off their rights of being a human . Nadia and Saeed , our protagonists , two young people fall in love, in such times .
Nadia though always dresses traditionally “from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch, her lifestyle does not concur with the practices of her society .She lives alone ,rides a motorcycle, supports herself and does not pray .Saeed , on the other hand is educated with a” nostalgic temperament” an employed adult, who chose to live with his parents, as is customary in some parts of the world . They are like any two regular people who enjoy the digital world , try psychedelic mushrooms and explore each other
Tragedy struck when Saeed’s mother is killed by a bomb and Nadia and Saeed has no choice but to leave the city with the usual doubts lurking in back that they would be “at the mercy of strangers ,subsistent on hand outs ,caged in prison like vermins ” .Saeed’s father supports their decision but he himself decides to stay back in the doomed city with the memories of his wife .
Nadia and Saeed are transported though the magical doors to first a Greek island and then to the streets of London and eventually to San Francisco where they are met by thousands of others like themselves , where they are never really allowed to assimilate and each time are thrown away from the mainstream like scum
The ratio of doors opening get inversely proportional to the tensions mounting in the “Nativists” who reaffirm that refuge seekers were the root cause of all their problems
‘”where the division that mattered now were between those who sought the right of passage and those who would deny them”
Physical survival could not maintain Nadia and Saeed’s relationship and Nadia seeks solace by releasing Saeed and Saeed in prayers .
It is a fast paced , tightly edited novel all of two hundred some pages where the climatic pull is enough but in certain parts of the book when author zooms in and out of some incidents happening in other parts of the world , readers could feel confounded .
We might call the theme cliché but yet again author surfs through the book in his unique style that the readers have a lot to interact in the psychic space .The scatter from the main story line some time though disengaging, never completely disconnects the readers .
Author is empathetic and it finds its resonance in its readers .This part of the world has always been that prodigal child, that rest of the world does not know how to embrace , that is an out of bound location, that is so fraught with danger that one would not be able to touch and heal ,that cause where more would always be less .
Author gives a voice to the women of the society by stating that Nadia’s black robes which she did not need to wear even in her own city but she chose to wear till the end is something that when one wants to send a certain signal , could be any body’s choice trying to defy the universal objectification of female form and not always an imposition
Patriotism comes forth when Saeed’s dad refuses to leave the city and wonders if he did go wrong by choosing to be a teacher ,a researcher a fighter and not head west ward towards financial security .
We know in our hearts of hearts that humanity is slaughtered in this part of the world every day but we are happy to be blinded and fiercely protective of our ensconced selves .We prefer to harbor the idea of sharing and caring only in theology and never in practice .This pervasiveness of senseless self preservation just reminds us of the sad times we are in .
Mohsin Ahmad’s books are always a critique’s delight and are extensively taught in writing courses and writing workshops .
Its definitely a reader’s delight and worth reading .
Have a great weekend .
Talk to you all soon .