Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is the third book I’ve read for this year’s Tournament of Books and my new favorite to win the Rooster. It’s the timely story of two lovers, Saeed and Nadia, who flee their war-torn country for a chance at a life somewhere else. But it’s a timeless story as well, the balance between adapting to new cultures and experiences while holding on to pieces of the past. And it’s a bit of speculative fiction, taking a possible peek at the future of mankind’s migration around planet Earth.
The author takes what feels like a theatrical trick, a trap-door under the stage, and turns it into a literary device to shortcut Saeed and Nadia’s journey, making the migration about where they are rather than their journey. I loved it, and I loved all the symbolism behind it.
The writing is beautiful, causing my to-read list to grow with the addition of Hamid’s earlier novels. It was emotionally restrained, somehow, yet powerfully precise. Here are four of my favorite lines:
“…but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”
“What she was doing, what she had just done, was for her not about frivolity, it was about the essential, about being human, living as a human being, reminding oneself of what one was, and so it mattered, and if necessary was worth a fight.”
“Perhaps they had grasped that the doors could not be closed, and new doors would continue to open, and they had understood that the denial of coexistence would have required one party to cease to exist, and the extinguishing party too would have been transformed in the process, and too many native parents would not after have been able to look their children in the eye, to speak with head held high of what their generation had done.”
“Every time a couple moves, they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us.”
In these for passages, I feel like Hamid captures essential truths of moving on, of human dignity, of acceptance, and of love.
In Pachinko, immigration is the focal point of a multi-generational family saga. In Exit West, a love story of two young adults is the focal point of a world-wide human migration saga. I love that both these books are included in the ToB.
Next up: The Animators.