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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Literary fiction

Exit West

by Mohsin Hamid

Quick take

You can’t walk away from this novel and feel unchanged, because nothing I’ve read before has made me feel what it is to have your native city become an uninhabitable war zone.

Why I love it

Leigh Haber
O, The Oprah Magazine

There couldn’t be a timelier novel than migrant love story Exit West. Mohsin Hamid never names the city from which his hero and heroine "Saeed and Nadia” must escape. They fall in love like many modern men and women do, at first tentatively, and then with increasing urgency, constantly in cell phone communication, negotiating sexual and relationship boundaries, smoking pot, even tripping on shrooms.

Early on, while there are hints of the lethal destruction to come, they can tune out when they are together. Later, the violence consumes everything, which, we realize, is what it must be life for an Iraqi, a Syrian, a Somali. As we become absorbed in their world through this remarkable book, we too become migrants, feeling the differences between us fall away, leaving only the sense of what it is to be a human being with nothing left except a glimmer of hope that somewhere else, things will be better.

No, this novel is not airy and light. It contains a lot of gorgeous writing, and it is a slim volume that packs a lot of movement and action into its pages, as well as an epic romance. But you can’t walk away from it and feel unchanged, because nothing I’ve read before has made me feel what it is to have your native city become an uninhabitable war zone; feel what it must be like to flee all you know and many of those you love, as Hamid puts it, "like dying and being born” for a wholly unfamiliar place where you will forage for food, hide from authorities, be beaten by unwelcoming, anti-immigrant mobs, have no access to hot water or clean, comfortable beds.

I guess you can sense that I am passionate about this book. It’s a novel for globalists who see the world not in skin colors or borders but as a planet populated by people who all want the same things, and perhaps, more than anything else, to one day meet a person who will say, yes, I get you.

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