Exit West By Mohsin Hamid
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.
At the last writing conference I went to, at some point during the day magical realism came up. It was during the agent panel event and the agents talked about how much they like this genre, but they weren’t able to give any recent examples. They pointed of course to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and some other Latin American authors, but not to anyone writing in the last two decades.
And as much as I read, I haven’t seen magical realism in a long time. Probably not since I last read a book by Marquez or one of the other masters of the genre. Until Exit West.
I admit, this threw me for a loop because I had no idea this book was magical realism. It’s so subtle I had to actually stop and back up a few pages to be sure of what I’d just read. I got this book from my Book of the Month membership, which basically just gives a picture of the book and the jacket text to help you make your selection. I haven’t really seen many reviews for this book other than I knew it was generally well-liked.
And it was a great read! I have to say, with our current global culture, everyone needs to be reading this book. It talks a lot about identity and race and home and sense of place in our modern, global society. I probably could have read this book in one setting, I just read before bed so I fell asleep a few times reading it. But if I’d picked this up in the afternoon, I could have powered through it no problem. It was a very engaging read and the writing is just beautiful.
My one criticism is that I wish it had gone just a tad more in depth. It tended to take a very high view of the plot (think looking down on the world from an airplane) while occasionally dipping down into Saeed and Nadia’s POV and the POV of other, unnamed characters. But I think taking the high view was the author’s goal and in that, he mightily succeeded.
Also, can we talk about how beautiful the cover is?! Just. Wow!