Some writers can magically turn the most disturbing scenes into the most evocative, animated landscapes. Mohsin Hamid simply has a way with words – achingly beautiful, lyrically sublime prose. He tackled the refugee crisis in a way that could be misconstrued as “making light” of a difficult situation. And I’ll explain why.
The novel tells the story of Nadia and Saeed. In an unknown country on the brink of war, they meet and fall in love. It’s an inopportune time; a very dangerous one at that. As the bombs start dropping and their country is ripped to shred by a civil war, they hear about doors that can offer them escape. Where these doors lead to, however, would not be revealed until they cross the threshold.
What if I tell you that this book is a story about refugees told with a hint of magical realism? Science Fiction, even. The doors are like wormholes and parallel universes. It has echoes of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. And yet, in spite of it all, the novel remained realistic somewhat.
We’ve all heard about how harrowing it’s been for refugees to flee their war-torn countries. A lot of people have drowned trying to escape Syria. A lot have also been turned away by other countries. It’s a problem that’s been politicized and sensationalized in the present day. Here, Mr. Hamid tackled the crisis in a way that’s wholly unexpected. From a couple of characters who are more liberal for people living in a Muslim country; to the way they escaped and lived the life that waited for them on the other side of the doors, Exit West is an ingenious and wildly imaginative tale of romance, religion, and strife.
Nadia is an independent woman who doesn’t pray but has taken to wearing a black robe. As soon as she reached the majority age, she moved out of her home. She worked for an insurance company and rode a motorcycle. She was a breath of fresh air as far as Saeed was concerned. Saeed for his part barely practices his religion. He wears a beard but only to the barest minimum. He seldom does his evening prayers.
If you’re not careful, you might get a little confused with the way the characters are transported from one place to another. There was one in particular that had my heartbeat tripping. It played out like a sinister scene in a movie wherein a sleeping woman, married but alone, seemed like she was about to be violated by an intruder. I was confused because I never heard about the woman again. But I realized later on that the man was just another refugee who found himself in someone’s house. He was not there to harm the woman. He was just there.
The world that the refugees wake up was surreal. More often they find themselves in somebody’s house but the owners go about their days nonchalantly. As if it wasn’t weird that their house was suddenly occupied by foreigners. There’s gotta be some hidden message that I wasn’t getting.
But this book is full of hope; of wishing that the world could be a bit more accepting and kinder to those who needed it the most. To open our homes to the refugees who only wanted to escape the chaos, the blood-shedding and the destruction brought on by war.