A second read for me because the Booker Group chose it for our December discussion and I read it in March of 2017, which is probably 250 books ago. So although I do remember it, much was fuzzy and because that’s the nature of the book anyway, it was really fuzzy.
This is dystopian fiction taking place in a time in the not too distant future when global warming has resulted in refugees from all over the world slipping into and out of one country or another. These migrants are being fought and attacked by police, soldiers, nativists and even each other as they huddle in groups in camps or abandoned mansions before they are either killed or escape by mysterious means. The world is a very dangerous place.
by Mohsin Hamid
2016 / 340 pages
read by Mohsin Hamid 4h 42m
rating 9 / contemp lit
Saeed, apparently Arab of some sort, and Nadia, probably from some Slavic country, meet and fall in love in Tokyo, but the situation becomes dangerous and Saeed’s mother dies. Although they are not really to that point in their relationship, the pair flee the country, with Saeed’s father’s blessing, and thanks to the mysterious doors which are a signature of the tale, find themselves on the Greek island of Mykonos. then in London where they stay for some time. There are quite a few Nigerians there as well as many other nationalities and they keep coming. The couple moves from place to place in the London camps. This apparently works out for many months, a year, although the circumstances are always very tiring and difficult. Their relationship has not really survived the strains in a romantic way. They’re getting older.
There are other tiny stories told about other people in other parts of the world, Tijuana and Amsterdam, for instance. It’s a world-wide problem including in the United States.
Michiko Kakutani, writing in the NY Times, says Hashim mixes global trouble with a bit of magic in some ways akin to C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and yes, absolutely, I see it.
I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about the doors, but they really worked for me. I thought they were a device to free the author from having to explain the couple’s actual journeys. After all, by now everyone knows one or more perilous refugee journey stories, but what was different in Exit West was the focus on what it does to people and their relationships.
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Absolutely, Lisa. And the doors could be anything from a pathetic boat in the Mediterranean to friendly skies stowaway or to a dark ship’s cargo hold – or it could just be disorienting enough to seem magical. I thought it was done very well and the point was the toll on people themselves (the changes in Saeed and Nadia), their relationships, and life with other refugees in a strange unwelcoming country. Not how they got there. – Besides, it’s the picture of a dystopian future – it can be magical.
In a way, when you live as a native in a country which gets a lot of immigrants it seems like they just appear and over time your world changes. Like the little old lady who’d lived all her life in Sausalito (California) in the book.
Yes, that’s true. And now it’s countries that don’t take migrants (like Japan) that seem boringly monocultural …