Book Review: 'Exit West'

Mar 6, 2017

Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid is the bestselling author of novels and essays, among them the revered novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. His latest book, Exit West, is one every reader should read now. I have not been this emotionally moved by a book in years.

Exit West is essentially a love story. It opens in a city described as “swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace or at least not yet openly at war.” Nadia and Saeed escape the city. They travel first to Greece, then London, living in squalid camps, having only each other among the masses of displaced people, waiting for what the future shows. Finally, they are in San Francisco, where housing is reserved for the moneyed class and the world moves forward in a rapid trajectory. Each place shows them new versions of themselves. As Hamid observes, “the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us.” 

After 50 years Nadia is back in the unnamed city and observes: “She was feeling she was a small plant in a small patch of soil, held between the rocks of a dry and windy place, and she was not wanted by the world, and here she was at least known...and that was a blessing.”

Exit West is an intoxicating epic of slender build. The writing is spare and sometimes reads like gospel. By the end of this brilliant book about assimilation and the permanence and impermanence of our lives, I was in tears and had to sit still for a bit to reflect. This timeless and timely love story is one we need, right now and forever.