This latest book by Mohsin Hamid, the author of Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist joins dreams, principles, identities and realities to create one of the best reads of this year.
A story can tell you a tragic reality in two ways: It can be vivid and devastating to the extent of being a compendium of life and death, with a grim picturisation of the innocent lives and their utter helplessness.The reader so becomes entangled with the protagonist’s destiny that with every page he flips, he desperately implores every god he believes in to finally bestow the slightest hint of happiness in the character’s lives. The other kind of storytelling is one where the author, does not paint the expressions to be gloomy, but he rather celebrates hope, sacrifice and humanity in the face of pervasive misery. Full of wonderful moments of courage and relentless allusions to the happy bygone times, the tale keeps the readers smiling through the tears throughout the text. With ‘Exit West’, Mohsin Hamid employs the second option, having already established his expertise in the first in his debut novel ‘Moth Smoke’ and later in his Man Booker shortlisted novel ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist”.
Exit west is the story of a young man named Saeed, who met a young woman in a classroom, named Nadia, and did not speak to her. Gradually their love flourishes in the backdrop of a war torn city. Like many other intricacies across the novel which have been subtly referred to but never explicitly expressed, the city’s name is left unmentioned. Joining the dots, one eventually realizes that it is actually Aleppo.
The storyline shifts as the war intensifies around the two lovers and they are forced to flee to safer places. At this point, Hamid employs magical realism as there are rumors of a door which teleports people across places. Saeed and Nadia migrate to Mykonos in Greece, then to London and finally to Marin, San Francisco as their lives and relationship stands the test of time.
The storyline is simple yet transient. At times the narration flows like the Indian summer breeze and later it gains enthralling pace. The subtle realities of existence are the primary catalysts as Saeed and Nadia constantly are reminded of their past existence and identities. They hope against hopelessness for a future which would be a continuum of their abandoned past but everyone, including the reader, knows otherwise.
Exit West is one of the few books which juggles between the personal and public themes with an ease in writing and a clarity of thought. The story ends with the reader’s mind and heart at a mutual debacle over the trajectory of Saeed and Nadia’ love story, but both clearly identifying that migration is the new reality of humankind and no one is completely immune to this reality.
Feature Image Credits: Parnassus Musing