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Review for Exit West; by Mohsin Hamid

A book review of the novel, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid,  shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker price.
Exit West:
ISBN: 0735212171 (ISBN13: 9780735212176)
No of Pages: 231. 

Exit West is the love story of Nadia and Saeed, but not the usual type, happening in a nameless country. Nadia is individualistic and brave and had moved out of her home before she met Saeed. 

Saeed is homely and lives with his parents. Both are from the conservative family set up. They meet at Nadia's flat, where one day she initiates sex, but Saeed discourages her. He believes in having sex only after marriage, his parents had fallen in love but had sex only after they got married. Tradition beckons him. 

Nadia and Saeed made plans to get married one day; Nadia isn't ready for that now.  Unfortunately, things get out of control as the militants began taking hold of their native place.  They showered bombs from helicopters killed many including Saeed's mother.  

A migrant population spread into their city and occupied all spaces. Saeed and Nadia agree to migrate through a gate, which took them to the Greek island of Mykonos as their first destination. From there they go to Britain and the US.  How the antagonistic, sometimes life-threatening and partly accommodative refugee life in those places translated their love into what is the story.

After going through the emotional tensions and the physical exhaustion of each day they slept together on a small bed but not even thinking of sex.  They still cared for each other but as siblings; at a later stage they found new attractions and moved on in separate ways, yet communicating with each other and that too faded away after a while.

In the last part of the story, Saeed and Nadia meet at a cafe in their native place, which had now attained kind of peaceful existence.  Naida regrets, "if I had agreed to marry you," and Saeed repents, "if I had agreed to have sex with you."

Here and there,  the narrative meanders through Australia, Japan and other places. Some people say this is his unique style, characters moving through time and space, though, I found it distasteful.  Saeed and Nadia migrate through gates, skipping the drudgeries of the refugee travel.  Was he adding magical elements to his story, I have no idea?

Hamid's ability to weave words to transport the reader to an imagined reality is superb for which he deserves nothing less than a hundred per cent.  

In Goodreads, I gave a rating of four out of five.  

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An excerpt of the novel from my Kindle for my blog readers:
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.  For many days. His name was Saeed and her name was Nadia and he had a beard, not a full beard, more a studiously maintained stubble, and she was always clad from the tip of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe.  Back then people continued to enjoy the luxury of wearing more or less what they wanted to wear, clothing and hair wise, within certain bounds of course, and so these choices meant something.
It might seem odd in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class-- in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding-- but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering with our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middle until the instant when it does.

Saeed noticed that Nadia has a beauty mark on her neck, a tawny oval that sometimes, rarely but not never, moved with her pulse.

Not long after noticing this, Saeed spoke to Nadia for the first time. Their city had yet to experience any major fighting, just some shootings and the odd car bombings, felt in one's chest cavity as a subsonic vibration like those emitted by large loudspeakers at music concerts, and Saeed and Naida had packed up their books and were leaving class.

In the stairwell he turned to her and said, 'Listen would you like to have  a coffee,' and after a brief pause added, to make it seem less forward, given her conservative attire, 'in the cafeteria?'

Nadia looked him in the eye. 'You don't say your evening prayers?' she asked.

Saeed conjured up his most endearing grin. 'Not always.  Sadly.'


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