[718]: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West
by Mohsin Hamid

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.

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[684]: Metaltown by Kristen Simmons

Metaltown by Kristen Simmons
Tor Teen | September 20th, 2016
Source: Publisher, Finished Copy
Young Adult Fiction | Steampunk
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Metaltown, where factories rule, food is scarce, and hope is in short supply.

The rules of Metaltown are simple: Work hard, keep your head down, and watch your back. You look out for number one, and no one knows that better than Ty. She’s been surviving on the factory line as long as she can remember. But now Ty has Colin. She’s no longer alone; it’s the two of them against the world. That’s something even a town this brutal can’t take away from her. Until it does.

Lena’s future depends on her family’s factory, a beast that demands a ruthless master, and Lena is prepared to be as ruthless as it takes if it means finally proving herself to her father. But when a chance encounter with Colin, a dreamer despite his circumstances, exposes Lena to the consequences of her actions, she’ll risk everything to do what’s right.

In Lena, Ty sees an heiress with a chip on her shoulder. Colin sees something more. In a world of disease and war, tragedy and betrayal, allies and enemies, all three of them must learn that challenging what they thought was true can change all the rules.

An enthralling story of friendship and rebellion, Metaltown will have you believing in the power of hope.

I have not had the most successful reading experiences with Kristen’s books in the past. Because I’m a romance reader first and foremost, I often found the lack of romance a detriment. Colour me surprised when Metaltown changed all that.

As what you’ve probably already know, this book is a brutal take on a world of absolute desolation. With a metal industry in the background, and a ruling caste intent on enslaving the poor, it was not the easiest book to get through. What it has an abudance of, however, are stories of survival and determination from the cast of characters. There’s something to be said about the torturous struggle the characters go through. I, as a reader, was able to feel a deeper appreciation for their successes – no matter how big or small. And because the world is not especially pleasant, you can say the characters have strong hearts and even stronger stomachs.

Kristen Simmons knows how to create a world out of the deepest despair you can imagine. There was never a doubt about that going into Metaltown. In fact, I braced myself for what was to come. This time around though, I savoured every single sliver of glittering metal shavings. It’s so effectively visceral that you can almost smell and taste the iron in the air.

Metaltown took me by surprise. It may  have started a bit slow at first, but once you get past that hurdle, it’s smooth sailing from there. If you like to read about underdogs exacting due justice to those who’ve wronged them, this book might give you a bit of satisfaction. I enjoyed the gritty world – no matter how difficult it was at times. I especially love Ty. She’s a spunky girl with a big heart even if the person who was supposed to watch her back treated her unfairly on more than one occasion.

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