A beautifully written novel that explores the relationship of two young people; Nadia and Saeed as they meet in the midst of a Civil War in their country. While embarking on their new love, they are thrust into an unknown new world; a world that is entirely unfamiliar and with it has its own dangers. Mixing the feelings and experiences of migration with magical realism, Exit West takes us on the path of uncertainty with Nadia and Saeed as they attempt to define who they are and what their relationship is.
So, first things first; I went into this book with preconceived expectations regarding its quality, this being largely due to Exit West being shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. That and I had just recently read Hamid’s other work The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Anyway, let’s just say it completely 100% lived up to these expectations. From the exceptionally heart-wrenching written prose that could almost make you cry (I admit, I cried several times) to the exploration of relationships, love, loss and the sacrifices we make in times of trouble, this was a book that touched me in almost every way.
What really caught my attention about this book though was its genre. Not only do readers get an insight into the migrant experience and the trauma associated with leaving your home for somewhere completely alien, Exit West is a love-story mixed in with magical realism. Now, I know you’re probably thinking “wait what?” “this is sci-fi/fantasy?” Definitely not. Although there, the magical realism is extremely small, only appearing in the shape of portals and passage ways. Either way, Hamid takes the conventions of the genre and completely switches it up; mixing categories even I didn’t think was possible in the most imaginative and evocative way possible that it works.
And then there’s the characters. Both Saeed and Nadia are written with an incredible depth to them that as they are experiencing this new life in foreign countries and trying to find out who they are, we as readers almost feel that we are right there alongside them. Mixed in with the violence, the despair and the powerful moments, is love and emotion and at one point, I actually found myself deeply caring for the outcome of Nadia and Saeed. I wanted them to find their happy ending. If that’s not the sign of a good piece of literature, I don’t know what is.
Written at a time in our world where themes of migration and immigrants preoccupy our news, Exit West not only highlights the effects of these experiences but serves to open up our mind and teach us to sympathise with those who perhaps don’t have the privileges we do. Exit West is a book which made me think, made me feel and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
I recommend buying this book, (or if you’re a student, picking up a free copy) and reading it as soon as possible. Trust me, it will blow your mind.
Rating: 4/5 stars