By Randy Kraft
I’m a little late on this one. The buzz began the moment the novel was published and for good reason. Mohsin Hamid is an international best-selling author of immense talent and I am a huge fan of his The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He has a way of talking about Middle Eastern culture with the ease of familiarity, but also in a way that evokes the most intense and revealing elements of lifestyle and tradition.
In Exit West, Hamid sustains that intensity and the narrative prose is elegant. This novel is not high plot, don’t expect that sort of page turner, and little mystery; rather the journey of two refugees, among many others, who find their way through metaphorical doorways from place to place and struggle to struggle, holding on to each other for dear life.
The sense of desperation is palpable although never deliberate. We feel what they feel, the mark of a skilled writer. And to feel the desperation of the millions of refugees and displaced persons in other parts of the globe is essential to maintain a connection to the harsh reality of the modern world. What happens to other human beings reflects on us all, and that perhaps is the primary message in the novel.
Saed for his part wished he could do something for Nadia, could protect her from what would come, even if he understood, at some level, that to love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.
Despite their profound connection, these lovers are disparate personalities. Their love affair defies the culture and, had they not chosen to run away together when their city is decimated by war, they might never have lasted long. He prays, she does not. He longs for family, she detaches. He holds to tradition, she seeks modernity. Together, however, they are one unit, and, just as Colson Whitehead created a railroad journey for slaves seeking freedom, Hamid has created a series of doors – one never knows what might be on the other side, what new danger or deprivation might exist – but the primal urge to keep moving, to seek a better life, is preeminent, and drives these characters toward their future.
To flee forever is beyond the capacity of most: at some point even a hunted animal will stop, exhausted, and await its fate, if only for a while.
This is a short, propulsive read, and important for those who wish to think and feel beyond their comfort zone. Sit back and immerse yourself in the lovely language even as your heart aches for the too many who have few comforts, if any at all, and for all those for whom there is no exit to the west.
Available in hardcover or for your favorite e-reader. Enjoy.