What it’s about: Saeed and Nadia are young lovers caught in a vicious battle in an unnamed city (yet strongly reminiscent of modern Turkey). Nadia wears a religious robe to protect her on the street yet is staunchly non-religious, enjoying motorcycling, music, and the occasional joint. Like Nadia, Saeed is educated, but is drawn nostalgically to faith and home. As their families and city are torn apart by conflict, Saeed and Nadia begin hearing rumors that there are doors that have become instant portals to other countries, and the only way to escape the perils of life in wartime. They bribe passage through a door and find themselves as migrants in a world whose boundaries are suddenly shattered by the appearance of ‘the doors.’ As they navigate new cultures churning with the clash of ‘nativists’ versus migrants, their identities as individuals and a couple are called into question
Why I liked it: Exit West was beautiful, with plot that was at once prophetic of the horror of the refugee experience while being, at its core, deeply hopeful. Hamid’s contemplations on the challenges that currently face–and will face– refugees and the countries to which they migrate were chilling, frustrating, and also, healing. With the addition of the slightly fantastic element of ‘the doors,’ Hamid is able to write freely about the refugee crisis without being mired in political details. The story is humane and even-handed, exploring the terror of Nadia and Saeed without ignoring the frustrations of the nativists who felt displaced within their own countries. Hamid even manages to outline ideas about how to manage and sustain communities in a world constantly shifting with immigration.
On top of this, Hamid’s voice is absolutely beautiful, his prose carrying a cadence and repetitive weight that had me remembering lines hours after hearing them. (On this note: I listened to this on audiobook and couldn’t recommend it enough; Hamid himself narrates the book, and his reading is spectacular.) If you want a vision of how the world will be changed by the displacement of persons from war-torn areas in the coming decade, read Exit West.
Audience: Older teen to adult
Read if you liked:
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida