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Saeed and Nadia fall in love in the shadow of civil war in an unnamed time and unknown Middle Eastern country. This young couple finds hope and a new life through the doors of mysterious portals to other parts of the globe. But there is bitterness in opportunity, and the world falls into crisis at the emergence of these portals. Exit West tells one couple's tale as it intersects with many people and cultures.
As a librarian, I find myself torn in my opinion of this book. I can see its potential, with Hamid's lyrical, almost allegorical writing style and the insights into human character. However, the choppiness of the writing, not quite a series of vignettes but rather loosely held together chapters with sections jumping in time and space, has me disliking the book as a whole. Many of the short vignette style stories inserted at random are seemingly unrelated to the plot as a whole. The ending left me feeling far from satisfied, and I felt generally confused and (for the first) half just plain irritated by the book. In the end, I feel that it is the right book for some, that it has value in its insight to the migrant experience, but that it is simply not my style of book to enjoy. I am interested to see what my book club thinks of this title.
I will caveat this review with the fact that this is the first fiction novel i have read in almost 10 years.
The first half of the book was very captivating, a love story between two very different people in the midst of a civil war. The author captured the emotions, the ups, the downs very beautifully as their love story developed. Then came the concept of Magic doors that could transport them instantaneously to different places around the world offering them an escape from the dangers of the war. I was not expecting the concept of magic doors, so it caught me by surprise (think Monsters Inc). After migrating through the magic doors the second half of the book detailed their struggles as migrants. I found this half of the book was really rushed, and as a result I wasn't able to connect with the characters as much. I was not able to feel their emotions and live their struggles. There was a strong message in there about the issues of migration/refugees but due to the lack of character development in the second half I don't believe we really felt that message come through. (As opposed to the first half where I really felt the devastation of war through the characters).
Also the author would introduce little snippets of completely random characters in different places and time throughput the book. I found these jumps very confusing and am not sure what they added to the story.
Saeed and Nadia live in a deteriorating city where danger flourishes and their lives could be gone any second. Despite this, they still both go to school and form a relationship together even with their contrasting personalities. However, things take a turn for the worse when the militants start fighting the government in their city, and Saeed’s mother is killed in the crossfire. They receive a tip that there are magical doors that lead to different parts of the world and go through one to escape the city. I liked this book because on the surface, it may just seem like it’s about a relationship that doesn’t work, but the author, Hamid, also explores many other concepts such as religion, immigration, and harassment.
From the description I thought this would be a good chance to escape the present and be entertained. This book is completely immersed in the present and painful and hopeful at the same time.
I find the writing style a bit hard to get used to but when I did the story flowed like water. Even though we don't get all the personal details of Nadia's and Saeed's relationship told in an emotional way, I still understand why they felt the way they did throughout their relationship. It's amazing how Hamid is able to write in such a way!
I expected something with more meat on its bones from a Booker Prize finalist and a N.Y. Times "10 best books". Yes, it's gorgeously written with fine cadences and long run-on sentences; it explores the plight of refugees and the nuts-and-bolts of how they scrape by but, in the end, what's it really about? Saeed and Nadia, 2 lovers, leave home and family and escape to the West in a series of hops from the un-named homeland (Beirut? Damascus? Baghdad? Kabul?) first to Mykonos, then London and finally California's coast. They lost their families, their culture and ultimately each other but what did either of them achieve? Mohsin doesn't tell us.
In a quasi-parallel reality, Nadia and Saeed are a young couple whose middle-eastern country is experiencing a civil war as militants take over their city. In this world, citizens who are lucky or well-connected can arrange for transport out of a region through mysterious doorways, which the couple opt to do, though where they will end up is uncertain.
If not for the unearthly doorways, Nadia and Saeed's experiences could be the actuality of any number of refugees fleeing similar or equally oppressive circumstances in the world today. It's hard to imagine the daily uncertainty of safety, food, shelter and sheer existence, but this book, though fiction, does an excellent job demonstrating the desperation, heartbreak and guilt felt by those fleeing their homes.
Nadia and Saeed leave their country due to a breakdown of the Government and take over by militants. They make passage through doorways made a valuable to them and started their lives over bit by bit through trial and error. They faced unspeakable hardships, loss of family, hunger, danger, disease, over crowding, hopelessness.... Eventually they pieced together a new life and found their ways. Very relevant with the breakdown of Governments around the world present day and an increasing resistance to immigrants.
Loved the idea of "doors" that are suddenly "there" that allow transport to other parts of the world...aside from that, this is a very well written book by an author that I was not familiar with. I plan on reading his other books.
A great little read, good enough to finish in one or two sittings. Get it
The author did an amazing job of creating characters that almost any reader can relate to upon some level. You are cheering for the young adults and then holding your breath with each day in the conflict. Excellent for book clubs.
I feel like this book was overrated. The premise sounded great but the execution was severely lacking.
I read this book in two sittings because I was so swept away by the gorgeous sentences, compelling characters, and a premise illustrated with the perfect amount of detail. Nadia and Saeed meet and begin to fall in love as unrest and instability in their [unnamed] city grows. Meanwhile, mysterious “doors” are popping up around the world, granting access from continent to continent, hemisphere to hemisphere.
The premise is carried off with subtlety and thoughtfulness — it’s not a puzzlebox and you never find out why or how these doors came to exist. That’s not a spoiler; it’s pretty evident from the first couple chapters that the “how” is not the point, as the narrative instead explores this concept that the universe will find a way to open itself to refugees, even if its people and policies won’t. Amidst that concept, Hamid also explores questions that include (but are in no way limited to!): What does it mean to be “from” a place, and how does leaving that place impact your identity? What does love look like in a time of chaos and how does it shift?
Also, it’s kind of a short read! So if you think you don’t have time for a beautifully written magical-realism-refugee-love-story, good news! You definitely do!
This was a wonderful read and I highly recommend it.
I enjoyed this book and felt like I was there experiencing it with them.
Timely topic, interesting narrative, visual imagery...well worth your time if contemporary/futuristic life interests you. Recommended.
I asked staff for some book recommendations and this is one of the books pulled from the shelf. I can't believe how quickly I got absorbed into this story and finished the book in only a few days because I simply could not put it down. The concept of travel in this book is fascinating. The story itself parallels the ebb and flow of immigration currently experienced in our real world. Great read!
Here's the thing: it's got beautiful imagery, a great plot, and all in all it is a good book.
However, the book is written entirely in run-on sentences (and a good chunk of things drags on as a result). If you can stand run-on sentence after run-on sentence, you'll like this book. If you can't (like me), you're going to find this book okay at first-- but barely a third of the way through you'll be dragging your feet and hating your existence because you're reading this book. Literally, I gave up 80% of the way through and skipped to the last two pages. For 50% of the book, I was forcing myself to continue entirely due to the run-on structure.
This isn't to say I have anything against the author (or the plot-- it's an amazing story, which I can't stress enough!), but it is to say that variety in sentence length can be a lifesaver. Personally I think it needs a LOT more variety, to the point where I can't give it a lot of stars: I love the story, but I dreaded continuing reading it so much that all I feel when I think about this book is dread.
So, to recap: great plot, beautifully done story; sometimes descriptions drag on. Written entirely in run-on sentences, so don't read if you're like me and cannot deal with that style of writing.
A one-sitting read - subtle, bittersweet, moving. Don't let the blurb on the cover fool you; the magical realism is a very minor part of this book, which is more grounded and real than a lot of realistic fiction. Saeed and Nadia are refugees and their lives and romance are impacted by that in every possible way. But Hamid shows us that "we are all migrants through time" in this affecting little book. Excellent.
I'm a huge fan of Jorge Luis Borges, "The Labyrinth" is my all-time favorite short story, so I really enjoyed the mysterious passages that pull Hamid's main characters through his narrative. It was a heart wrenching window to a reality far from my own, and also highly relatable though Hamid's revelatory descriptions of the complexity of love and commitment in the face of life's challenges.
Excellent, sensitive novel, proves that often fiction tells a greater truth than nonfiction--in this case about the immigrant experience.
This book is timely in providing a brief glimpse into refugees from countries of conflict and their losses and hopes. I fell for the characters as they grew to know each other despite the trials of a country in civil war. A fantastic turn takes place as they become refugees in various countries with new cultures created by the emigres. Ill watch for the next book by this author.
Saeed and Nadia are two young people living their lives and falling in love- normal things that normal people do. Then the wars start and doors start opening and their lives are thrown into disarray. This elegantly written Science Fiction offering examines issues of migration, immigration, the refugee crisis, and how human nature seeks out love and family even in the darkest of times. This book was so beautiful, that even readers (like me!) who do not usually enjoy this genre, will be left touched by its gorgeous writing and relatable characters.