Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Here is a link to my review of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, a general fiction novel that uses a speculative element to muse about the nature of nations and borders in our modern world. I highly recommend Exit West.

Nadia and Saeed are the only two named characters. They meet and fall in love in an unnamed city which is sliding faster and faster into civil war. At the same time, around the world, black rectangles are appearing in closet doors, storage sheds and doors to mansions. The rectangles take those who step through them to a different place on the globe. As the situation deteriorates in Nadia and Saeeed’s home, they reluctantly decide to go through one of the rectangles, beginning a global migration that will take them to Greece, Great Britain and ultimately California in the USA.

Just because characters like Saeed’s father, the Nigerian elder in a house in London, and various soldiers and agents aren’t named does not mean they aren’t developed as characters. The lack of names makes these rounded characters more accessible; they could be anyone’s father, anyone’s dentist, the solder at a checkpoint threatening anyone. This is a powerful part of the book. The rectangles are stand-ins for smart phones and tablets—devices that bring the far reaches of the world, good and bad, into our kitchens, our offices, our bedrooms.

Exit West was selected for the PBS book club, and it’s a good choice. Whatever your political stance on immigration, this is a must-read on the topic of migration. It will make you think about, and even question, the nature of borders.

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