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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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Member thoughts

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All (3934)
Love (1514)
Like (1911)
Dislike (509)
4012 ratings
  • 38% Love
  • 48% Like
  • 13% Dislike
  • Virginia Beach , VA

    I found this book to be unbearably sad, but that’s why it’s an important novel. The life of a refugee is living one moment to the next, with no certainty and losing your sense of a previous identity.

  • Seattle, WA

    Another sleeper masterpiece ID’d by BOMC. The characters & scenes remain in my mind, having disrupted my framework of reality. I hadn’t had an ounce of insight about refugees until reading this book.

  • Santa Fe, NM

    One of the most brilliant books I’ve read recently. Telling a Middle Eastern story with unforgettable characters, using a bit of magical realism, yet anchoring the story to reality, I loved this book.

  • San Francisco, CA

    It’s so easy to forget that the humans behind the refugee crisis are just like us. This is a tale of 2 people finding themselves and their destinies under intensely adverse circumstances. I loved it!

  • Columbus, OH

    I loved this book. I loved the philosophical perspective and the characters and how the story was told. Realistic and sometimes heartbreaking relationships against a magical element of time and place.

  • Leesburg, VA

    This was a book that I was unsure about but many people recommended it. Its definitely worth the read. A little slow at parts but something to make you stop and think about the way you look at life.

  • Oberlin, OH

    The prose is delightful. I love the added magcial thinking. The author has taken a modern day issue and writes about the reality of immigration, while setting it in a different time with a unique spin

  • Santa Ana, CA

    A timely and important novel. Brings light to the transitory nature of love and life and gives a glimpse into the struggles of so many people are experiencing today as they are forced from their homes

  • Charleston, SC

    Oftentimes, we think of tragedies as large and overwhelming. This showed an intimate, personal story through the lens of such a tragedy. The language was beautiful and the story was thought-provoking.

  • New York, NY

    Such a thoughtful story of love and loss and everything in between. Especially relevant now with the refugee crisis being such a critical issue, its important to put yourself in these people's shoes.

  • Chapel Hill, NC

    Beautiful story. Parallels to our current world climate with an added level of fantasy. More about the relationship between these two essentially refugees rather than sci-for but stunning nonetheless.

  • Mechanicsburg, PA

    I'm still processing this book. I, honestly, think I'll need to read it again to fully understand all the different concepts and ideas hidden within it. Maybe just because its so far from what I know.

  • Greenwood Village, CO

    Compact, intense and brilliant read. The relationship between the two protagonists is so complicated and rich. It was hard to not feel pulled in and trapped under the weight of their world. Beautiful.

  • San Jose, CA

    An atmospheric, abstract, & lovely novel. So many things left unexplored & unanswered, but in the end, those things didn't matter. Nadia and Saeed's love story is profound & the language is beautiful

  • Salem , OR

    This book had me wound tight around the characters and their lives. I was in the midst of violence and war with them, and my anxieties were also shared with them. I think everyone needs to read this.

  • Bloomington, IL

    This book was really thoughtful in its portrayal of a war-torn country and refugees. See full review here:

  • Berwyn, IL

    So beautifully written and real. I really liked the pace and really everything about it. Almost wish it was longer but still so beautiful and didn't leave me guessing just full of a magical wonder :)

  • Arlington, VA

    "Exit West" explores the world of refugees - people who can not go home again. It is also a love story. I heard it reviewed on PBS's New Hour after reading it. It is an important piece of fiction.

  • York, PA

    This book takes you to the other side of the world that is immersed in war and conflict. Experience life with a couple that does anything they can to seek freedom & survival from the binding of war.

  • Minneapolis, MN

    Such a raw exploration of turmoil, immigration, and belonging. Extremely topical in today's world. Had me crying, smirking at the humor, putting the book down to just think. A very encompassing read.

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