This book is so short – and only 4 1/2 hours on Audible – was it worth a whole credit? – Okay , I loved Hamid’s The Reluctant Terrorist (2007) so I went ahead. Yes. It’s worth it.
by Mohsin Hamid
2016 / 340 pages
read by Mohsin Hamid 4h 42m
rating 9 / contemp lit
Saeed and Nadia are two young adults who live and work in a largish city in an unknown country which is undergoing transformation into a very conservative hard-line place with military presence and fighting. It’s typical of the kinds of places refugees come from. Because of their journey I figure they are from Syria or thereabouts. They met each other taking classes and now want to marry, but at the moment it’s not possible. They are generally trapped in the fighting. It might not even be safe to be seen with each other. But they do. Daily life is different in a war zone but still, it goes on.
Nadia is looking for a way out and thanks to a bit of magic/fantasy/metaphor (?), one day a door appears. There have been rumors about these doors but this is the first they’ve seen. Saeed’s mother is deceased, but maybe his father could make the trip. No, he won’t go. But he wants them to go, he wants Nadia to look after Saeed and stay with him until they find someplace safe. Nadia remembers that. The couple leaves through the door and find themselves in a series of Greek refugee camps with thieves and brave souls and more doors and then comes Vienna. After that there’s a camp in London where life gets harder and somewhat more organized, but more difficulties are encountered in their daily lives – which refugees belong to which groups, there are divisions, disputes. Who is a friend, who is not?
This book is a more a mediation on the life of a refugee and the nature of love than it is a plot or character-driven novel. The characters are not “fully formed” or “rounded,” and in my opinion that’s appropriate because they are meant to represent almost all refugees, not one particular couple. I think Hamid wants the reader to see many refugees in the faces of these two, and to see these two in the faces of the refugees we see in the media – (or downtown). To individualize them too much would take that recognition away – or minimize it – “Our refugees are different.” And I don’t think that’s the intended take-away.
Theirs is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural life, love in a time of ultimate danger, of impermanence, of transience, of death, as well as of wealth amid rubbish with wondrous good will and generosity amidst thievery and loss. And the luminous writing of a compelling story.
The doorways are compared to the closet of C.S. Lewis but I saw it more like Colson Whitehead’s doors and stations in The Underground Railroad.
Yes – read it.