In Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, we meet Saeed and Nadia two young people living and working in an unspecified Middle Eastern city in a time somewhat close to now. They meet in a night class and begin a romance just as their city begins to fall apart around them, plagued by the violent struggle between the government and militants. As avenues out of the city close off and the fighting begins to become less of an occasional occurrence and begins to affect their own every day lives, they hear rumors about special doors. Doors that lead to places around the world. People are reported to be able to walk through a door in a bar in Mexico and walk out of a door in a random house in Australia. As the militants work to secure all of the doors in the city, smugglers help people escape the violence as long as they can. Saeed and Nadia decide to leave when they get the chance, leaving behind all they've ever known. They walk through their first door and find themselves in a migrant camp in Greece, what becomes merely one stop in their journey as they become part of a global time of upheaval and change.
In many ways, Exit West feels like a quiet, contemplative story. We see things through the eyes of two people and their relationship. What draws two people together? What makes them stay with each other? How does a relationship change in times of stress? In other ways, Exit West is a big story, exploring themes of migration and societal upheaval. Why do some people stay in hard or dangerous places and circumstances? Why do some people go? Why do some people see new circumstances as a chance to change and grow while others cling to pieces of their past or identity? What happens in a world where people can travel from one place to another almost instantly? How do ideas of community and country and identity change? What happens when the world starts shifting in a way and at a pace that causes some to see impending apocalypse while others see salvation?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the characters, the story, and the quiet yet thoughtful and contemplative storytelling. I enjoyed the touch of magical realism and the juxtaposition between ordinary, everyday lives and big themes and questions.