By Dan Clendenin

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Mohsin Hamid, Exit West; A Novel (New York: Riverhead, 2017), 231pp.

In this love story about the two migrants Nadia and Saeed, Mohsin Hamid captures the Zeitgeist of our contemporary world, where over 60 million people have been displaced from their homes. Indeed, at the end of the book, the couple observes that sometimes it seems like “the whole planet is on the move.”

The story begins in an unnamed city “swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war.” That fragile equilibrium doesn’t hold, as the government battles radical militants. When things deteriorate to truck bombs, beheadings, public executions, food shortages, and little gas, water, or electricity, Nadia and Saeed flee.

Their flight is made possible through a series of magic doors, which doors had been increasingly rumored in their city, and which Hamid introduces early on. “It was said in those days” that passing through one of these doors and escaping the death trap of their city was “both like dying and like being born.” But as their story unfolds, and as we know from our daily newspapers, new life in a new country is fraught with all sorts of new problems for refugees like them.

Nadia and Saeed are very different people. She was “always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe.” But this is all about subterfuge rather than sanctity, for Nadia is decidedly irreverent. She never prays, uses vulgar language, smokes dope, and even lives by herself. Saeed, on the other hand, “prays a great deal,” and his prayers become an increasingly important theme in their story. In the end, Nadia and Saeed “found themselves changed in each other’s eyes in their new place.”

Hamid (b. 1971) is a British Pakistani whose previous three novels were best sellers that earned dozens of awards and have been translated into thirty-five languages. A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, he is himself a wandering migrant who splits his time living in Lahore, New York, London, and Mediterranean countries, including Italy and Greece.

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