Hamid draws enchantment from abstraction, in the style of a fairy tale, and his narrative vantage point shifts through time and space with a godlike equanimity ... Hamid, through this roaming narration, gently diminishes Saeed and Nadia, freeing them from the burden of speaking for the millions who share their condition. They seem like the focal point of Exit West, rather than its center, even though they’re the only characters who are given names ... Hamid rewrites the world as a place thoroughly, gorgeously, and permanently overrun by refugees and migrants, its boundaries reconfigured so that 'the only divisions that mattered now were between those who sought the right of passage and those who would deny them passage.; He doesn’t flinch from the mess and anger that come from redistribution and accommodation—but, still, he depicts the world as resolutely beautiful and, at its core, unchanged. The novel feels immediately canonical, so firm and unerring is Hamid’s understanding of our time and its most pressing questions.
Hamid’s enticing strategy is to foreground the humanity of these young people, whose urbanity, romantic inclinations, upwardly mobile aspirations and connectedness through social media and smartphones mark them as 'normal' relative to the novel’s likely readers. At the same time, he insists on their 'difference' from readers who may be Western. Their city is besieged by militants who commit terrible atrocities, evoking scenes from Mosul or Aleppo ... Hamid takes full advantage of our familiarity with these scenes to turn Exit West into an urgent account of war, love and refugees ... The novel implicitly asks these readers why doors should be closed to refugees, when those readers might become refugees one day? How these doors work is not Hamid’s concern. The doors can be manifestations of magic realism, fantasy or science fiction, or all three, but they simply stand in for the reality that refugees will try every door they can to get out ... This gentle optimism, this refusal to descend into dystopia, is what is most surprising about Hamid’s imaginative, inventive novel. A graceful writer who does not shy away from contentious politics and urgent, worldly matters — and we need so many more of these writers — Hamid exploits fiction’s capacity to elicit empathy and identification to imagine a better world.
Writing in spare, crystalline prose, Hamid conveys the experience of living in a city under siege with sharp, stabbing immediacy. He shows just how swiftly ordinary life — with all its banal rituals and routines — can morph into the defensive crouch of life in a war zone ... In summary, it might sound perversely counterintuitive of Hamid to use a fairy-tale-like device as a way to move his characters from their war-torn homeland to a new life in the West...Hamid, however, is less interested in the physical hardships faced by refugees in their crossings than in the psychology of exile and the haunting costs of loss and dislocation ... By mixing the real and the surreal, and using old fairy-tale magic, Hamid has created a fictional universe that captures the global perils percolating beneath today’s headlines, while at the same time painting an unnervingly dystopian portrait of what might lie down the road.
...the book is part pared-down romance, part 21st-century fable for a world of porous borders and new forms of connectivity. Summarised like this, Exit West sounds as if it might lapse into shopworn tropes of world literature: a redemptive love story set against generalised violence and apocalypse, or an overbearing political allegory with some hokey magical realism thrown in. But this wry, intelligent novel eludes these and spins out its own narrative shapes. The opening scenes of a city sliding into civil war are brilliantly managed, precisely because the details are so restrained, and the encroachment of fear blended so unremarkably into the courtship of Nadia and Saeed ... The magical realist doors are hardly evasions or a clunky deus ex machina — quite the opposite. Unlike many press reports on 'the migrant crisis,' the narrative machinery here does not fetishise the journey but focuses instead on the destination, and what might happen next. And so it seeks to imagine a future in which the experience of mass migration has become (as it has been at many other moments of human history) an inalienable fact.
The novel’s Marquezian title might have been 'Love in the Time of Migration,' though this magical love story is, like most love stories told in full, a loss-of-love story — love abraded by the pitiless stipulations of living ... Hamid has been much laureled for the lucent beauty of his prose. The sentences of Exit West are persuasively stressed with a fairy-tale frankness and its sinister undertow ... Hamid understands that the novelist is no pamphleteer, no bitter soap-boxer. Writers of imaginative prose have a responsibility only to their own story, to whatever beauty and wisdom that story demands, and to the moral pulsing manifest in their sensibility, their style ... No novel is really about the cliche called 'the human condition,' but good novels expose and interpret the particular condition of the humans in their charge, and this is what Hamid has achieved here.
Exit West might bring to mind Donald Trump's loud claim, during the campaign, that he wanted to ban Muslims from coming to America. But Hamid, once again, approaches this topic from the viewpoint of the Other: Reading him, you identify with the struggles and sorrows of the migrants; you understand, at least a little bit, the conditions that refugees are trying to escape. Most powerfully, we are encouraged to imagine the characters' painful choices—why they might subject their families to incredibly risky boat voyages, and why they might leave other family members behind to die ... It is thrilling to read fiction that provides a report on the world and on how people live today. Hamid is often good at delivering this pleasure. But in Exit West, somewhat inexplicably, he adopts a narrative voice that I can only call biblical...Hamid is usually a wonderful stylist, but this is mannered and jarring, and the awkward syntax and style are deployed repeatedly in Exit West ... We are inhabiting a dystopia that seemsfamiliar, and yet can be located only in the future. We see things that are set at a distance. This narrative distance, as well as the rhythm of the language, gives the rest of the novel the feel of a fable. The excitement in the opening pages of the novel wears off. And yet, such is the intelligence of Hamid's craft that he is able to offer many small, engaging essays, even amid a faltering plot.
Hamid is finely attuned to those shifts, as well as to the underpinnings of desire that remain intact even at times of upheaval, and in both sweeping and detailed strokes, his two characters become entangled against the backdrop of the city’s unraveling ... a meticulously crafted, ambitious story of many layers, many geopolitical realities, many lives and circumstances ... Exit West is steeped with losses that we know are coming, that we are told of long before they unfold. And yet, rather than stunt the emotional depth of the book, these fates, sometimes mentioned in passing by the wise, knowing third-person narrator before we experience them in detail later, don’t detract in their revelation. Rather, for the reader it’s an emotional journey lived twice, the second time more harrowing than the first ... In the end, Hamid’s is a breathtaking, complex, sweeping view of the current global predicament, not just a crisis of refugees, but the conundrum of borders and wealth.
With Exit West, Hamid has entered the realm of speculative fiction. It would be a pleasure to report that he has mastered the genre with the same biting prowess that he brought to his satire, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, and to his Man Booker Prize-nominated masterpiece, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. But that's not quite the case. Exit West works best in its first half, as it describes the deteriorating conditions that its characters endure ... In his earlier books, Hamid was a master of streamlining and distillation. But as Exit West winds down, his narrative is sometimes more perfunctory than artfully spare.
In previous novels, Hamid has used a heavily inflected narrative voice to filter everything through a personality that is not his own, but which he nevertheless owns as the author...Exit West confidently adopts yet another kind of voice – a tone of radical simplicity that in the opening 50-odd pages borders on brutality, and makes every conversation, every detail, every scene feel at once vital and under threat ... The mixture of clarity and restraint in [certain] passages is very impressive, and confirms Hamid’s reputation as a brilliant ventriloquist who is deeply engaged with the most pressing issues of our time ... Hamid describes these threats in terms that deliberately echo some of the intolerant voices raised by Brexiters: there is a 'reclaim Britain for Britain' movement of 'nativists,' for instance, which soon forces a political crisis. And not only political. A major part of Hamid’s achievement in Exit West is to show how profoundly social damage will injure private lives – not only in obvious ways (physical injury, homelessness), but by hampering the ability to construct any sort of life outside their sphere of influence ... When he approaches his conclusion...his bare statement style works against him. Initially it compelled us to sup full of horrors. Now it seems a little thin, and therefore conveys a sense of wishful thinking.
Hamid’s novel is both timely—a tale about refugees playing out against a global migrant crisis—and impossibly prescient. When it comes to the future, he posits, we will all be migrants, whether we hop from country to country or stay in one place until the day we die ... Meticulously but casually, Hamid charts a society’s descent, and how innate the human impulse is to endure ... Although the country Saeed and Nadia flee from is vague, the locations they flee to are specific, which allows Hamid to elucidate some of the more grimly absurd realities of migration ... Hamid’s writing—elegant and fluid, with long sentences that encapsulate the myriad contradictions of his characters’ lives—makes Exit West an absorbing read, but the ideas he expresses and the future he’s bold enough to imagine define it as an unmissable one.
The prose moves with swift transitions, mirroring the stealth of the time-traveling refugees, and details are offset by a wonderful dark humor. Long sentences curl around entire histories, but quietly, as though witness is sufficient in a novel that covers the repetitive facts of human struggle, and the ineffable beauty of human resilience ... if we are looking for the story of our time, one that can project a future that is both more bleak and more hopeful than that which we can yet envision, this novel is faultless.
In his effort to move from specific current events to shared human experiences, Mr. Hamid straddles the border between the real and the fantastic ... The question that tugs at the start of Exit West is whether it’s supposed to take place in Syria. Not really, it turns out, because while Mr. Hamid borrows from aspects of Syria’s civil war, especially in the clash between militants and government forces, other details depart from recent history entirely, including a dip into outright fantasy: magic doors that open directly from one country into another...The magic doors make sense, conceptually, because they symbolize Mr. Hamid’s vision of a world in which boundaries are permeable and migratory pathways extensive and swarming...But the gimmick sands away the texture of a story that already studiedly blurs its settings and events. By eliding the actual passage between countries—often the most dramatic part of the refugee’s tale—Exit West makes Nadia and Saeed seem like simulations, players in a video game who can instantly jump from one realm to another. A hyper-globalized world that is completely flat produces writing to match ... It’s a stirring, ennobling appeal for compassion. But the richness of fiction is found in fine distinctions rather than broad-stroke generalizations, and the trouble is that Exit West collapses the differences between being an exile from a war-torn Middle Eastern country and splitting up with a loved one into a single, uniform experience of loss. This will assuage the consciences of Mr. Hamid’s Western readers, who can leave the book feeling that they truly empathize with the plight of refugees since they too are migrants. The refugees themselves might be less impressed.
An allegory about the contradictions of a world that is both thoroughly globalized and startlingly unequal, Hamid’s book directs our attention to that question of luck: the degree to which the places where we are born shape our destinies. Exit West is unfortunately more successful in broaching these subjects than in fully grappling with them ... If it seems like I have done an insufficient job of describing the two central characters, who dominate nearly every scene and are almost the only people given any dialogue, that is because Hamid defines them as thinly as possible ... Exit West is never boring, but its intriguing premise never really pays off, and too many of the author’s decisions feel arbitrary. This is especially true when it comes to the nameless country of the book’s first half ... Novels, even those as 'relevant' as this one, do not need to have “messages,” but when a writer seems so much more interested in his political premise than his characters, it’s reasonable to expect a stronger sense of what exactly he or she wants to say. And at a time when migrants are seen as dangerous, faceless masses, Hamid’s book is a missed opportunity to provide migrant characters with some substance and distinguishing features.
...at once a love story, a fable, and a chilling reflection on what it means to be displaced, unable to return home and unwelcome anywhere else ... Hamid does an excellent job portraying the relationship between Saeed and Nadia...And he captures the feeling of being displaced beautifully — this is the best writing of Hamid's career. The novel is poetic, full of long, flowing sentences ... There's not a wasted word in Exit West; every one is considered carefully. This makes every sentence hit hard — the writing makes it hard to put down, but readers will find themselves going back and savoring each paragraph several times before moving on. He's that good. It's a breathtaking novel by one of the world's most fascinating young writers, and it arrives at an urgent time. Hamid encourages to us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, even when they've lived lives much harder than anything we've endured.
In gossamer-fine sentences, Exit West weaves a pulse-raising tale of menace and romance, a parable of our refugee crisis, and a poignant vignette of love won and lost. Hamid’s imagery is gorgeous, his sentences unfurling languidly ... Hamid portrays his characters’ plight with an aching beauty, particularly when they decide to part ... Let the word go forth: Hamid has written his most lyrical and piercing novel yet, destined to be one of this year’s landmark achievements.
Nadia and Saeed take the chance, and begin a new kind of adventure—one that Hamid unfurls in deceptively simple prose, as spare and dreamlike as a fable. But Exit West’s mystical spin isn’t a gloss on geopolitical reality; nearly every page reflects the tangible impact of life during wartime—not just the blood and gun smoke of daily bombardments, but the quieter collateral damage that seeps in. The true magic of the book is how it manages to render it all in a narrative so moving, audacious, and indelibly human.
Reading Mohsin Hamid’s penetrating, prescient new novel feels like bearing witness to events that are unfolding before us in real time ... Hamid’s portrayal of contemporary America through the eyes of a newcomer is startling for its bird’s-eye detachment ... Hamid is a sly stylist with an uncanny gift for metaphor ... Toward the end of the book, Saeed and Nadia grow apart as a couple, and the narrative stalls a bit, but the novel more than holds together and retains its urgent, extraordinary relevance to current events.
Hamid's prose powerfully evokes the violence and anxiety of lives lived 'under the drone-crossed sky.' But his whimsical framing of the situation offers a hopeful metaphor for the future as the 'natives' come to accept their new neighbors. 'Perhaps they had grasped that the doors could not be closed,' he writes, 'and new doors would continue to open, and they had understood that the denial of coexistence would have required one party to cease to exist, and the extinguishing party too would have been transformed in the process.'
In an astonishing synthesis of political commentary and vivid imagery, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West is a commanding yet fanciful outlook of the current climate of global immigration and international xenophobia, as told through the poignant love story of those caught in between ... Hamid’s avoidance of any realism is deliberate and careful, but it never veers far from the very immediate and continuous danger the two must live through to escape. While there is immense beauty in the journey, there is never a lack of substance beneath it all ... In slow, heartbreaking moves, Hamid explores the fragility of relationships and, in doing so, the strides taken within the bonds of dependence and time. It is this balance of physical and emotional movement that Hamid writes best ... Even with the occasional lapses in narrative, Hamid has crafted an incredibly moving antidote to the unseen world of refugees and immigration in Exit West. He masterfully embarks on a journey through the eyes of two lovers.
Hamid graphically explores a fundamental and important ontological question: Is it possible for us to conceive of ourselves at all, except in juxtaposition to an 'other'? ... Apart from being an honest meditation on love and prejudice, Exit West is one of the pithiest and most powerful comments on the contemporary zeitgeist because it is deliberately noncommittal: Should Saeed and Nadia — and, by implication, their real-life analogs — exit to, or from, 'West'? ... What is remarkable about Hamid’s narrative is that war is not, in fact, able to marginalize the 'precious mundanity' of everyday life. Instead — and herein lies Hamid’s genius as a storyteller — the mundanity, the minor joys of life, like bringing flowers to a lover, smoking a joint, and looking at stars, compete with the horrors of war.
Reading Hamid is like receiving a coloring book containing breathtaking vibrant pictures with no lines to contain the images. Again he wrote a novel slim in size—yet deceptively expansive ... Hamid’s meditation on migration is beautiful and heartbreaking. Migration is a central theme to the novel, but its examination is broad, and the execution is more metaphorical than other recent books dealing with immigration ... At its core, Exit West is a poignant study of an exodus from one’s country, while also offering an empathetic portrait of migration. It’s a beautiful reminder that 'We are all migrants through time.' We all migrate through space and time—some people just move farther away.
...a short, urgent missive in which each detail gleams with authorial intent ... The prose in Exit West is restrained, its surface calm both belying and heightening the pathos of Saeed and Nadia’s situation ... Still, Exit West is lit with hope. Hamid has said that 'part of the great political crisis we face in the world today is a failure to imagine plausible desirable futures,' and that 'fiction can imagine differently.' Exit West does so, and beautifully.
In contrast to Hamid’s earlier work, Exit West is a novel of restraint and only subtle humor and romance. Hamid refrains from naming the city where the lovers begin. But the book rapidly becomes an ambitious and far-roaming tale of migration and adventure. This gesture arguably places Exit West in the tradition of postmodern magical realism inhabited by the likes of Italo Calvino and Angela Carter, where little doses of fantasy (raining flowers, or telekinesis) break the ordinary world’s laws. But the magic is limited to this single phenomenon, which feels like something quite new ... The creative gesture is subtle and extreme at the same time, and the result is a novel of exceptional focus. Hamid stays with his protagonists like a spirit looking over their shoulders: The voice is sensitive, tender, as if these characters really are beloved ... Hamid’s care for his protagonists, the sheer insistence in the novel of human beings’ importance to one another, is an artistic and a political statement.
It’s a brilliant, fantastical framework that, in Hamid’s hands, highlights the stark reality of the refugee experience and the universal struggle of dislocation ... It’s hardly necessary to point out that Hamid’s novel speaks to the current state of the world, with the roiling, never-ending debates about immigration and refugee crises. Exit West doesn’t offer any answers or solutions, but by telling the story of where Saeed and Nadia have been, and adding a touch of fantasy, he imagines where we have yet to go.
It would be tempting to catalog Exit West with Nineteen Eighty-Four, It Can't Happen Here, and other dystopian alternative histories that, after November, have become popular again — except that, at a time when violence, famine, and natural disasters have produced unprecedented dislocation, Hamid's book is not necessarily alternative history. Rather than the totalitarian tyranny envisaged by George Orwell and all too easily anticipated in 2017, Hamid emphasizes anarchy, a world in which authority has collapsed and exile is the universal condition ... The effect is to conjure up a bewildering, violent world that resonates with our own, in which anonymous masses swarm across arbitrary borders.
With great empathy, Hamid skillfully chronicles the manic condition of involuntary migration — more plainly labeled, the refugee crisis — without the remove of history or a specific location ... For such an intensely fraught novel, Hamid maintains a light remove from gritty quotidian details through his third-person narration. This dreamlike narrative provides the space for his characters’ uncertain course to float along without the overbearing tension of melodrama ... Exit West rattles our perception of home and denies us the ability to dismiss the likelihood of domestic chaos.
Hamid’s use of magic realism is brilliant, making the point that even if the journey itself isn’t ridden with leaky boats, drowning children and long stays in legally-murky prisons, swapping out an intentionally built life for one where nothing is certain is one of the most demoralizing elements of migration ... Hamid not only tackles these massive themes but also provides unforgettable details exposing the horrors of war ... If you’re numb to the unending talk relating to migration policy, the platitudes and the protest slogans, this book provides a way to reignite much-needed empathy because, above all, Hamid reminds us that no matter hard governments try, they can never really close doors.
Hamid takes this remove one step further in Exit West, which reads almost like a sociological report, Saeed and Nadia lab specimens whose past and futures are entirely known. The omniscient narrator reveals outcomes that have not yet happened, like the manner in which someone will die or an estrangement that will never be healed. It is as if God itself were the narrator, and Saeed and Nadia prototype figures like Adam and Eve. By removing the melodrama inherent in a refugee’s plight and replacing it with quotidian incidents picked out in vivid, evocative and highly astute prose, Hamid elevates this tale from a self-pitying weeper or a heart-wrenching invective into a sympathetic, beautifully wrought story of two people propelled by events outside of their control who seize their own destinies. While offering a dim view of the future, it also comforts with a portrait of humanity’s resilience.
...a thoughtful, beautifully crafted work that emphasizes above all the ordinariness and humanity of people who become refugees ... Exit West is by turns fantastical and all too real, and always thoughtful and gripping. It’s a novel about ideas that also cares deeply about the pleasures of language, and a novel of disconcerting timeliness that does not depend upon its historical context to be compelling. Its language and ideas might have a particular resonance today, but they would be worth reading at any time.
Hamid masterfully juxtaposes the unexpected and the ordinary to both complicate the lovers’ tale and offer an important critique of current refugee crises ... Hamid uses several recurring motifs: The night sky, the plurality of languages and the shame of refugees are refrains woven artfully into this tale about the difficulties of sustaining a relationship through trauma. There’s a decidedly absurdist overtone to Exit West, as in some ways the lovers (and others) seem to be filling their time, waiting for something they have yet to discover ... Hamid’s apposition of the magic and the pedestrian forces his reader to think differently about refugees and the idea of leaving an entire country or life behind.
Exit West makes visceral how quickly and easily life as we know it can come to a terrifying end ... The first half of Exit West is deeply moving in its close and tender observations of Saeed and Nadia coming together as their world is coming apart. The latter part of the novel, however, loses some momentum as Saeed and Nadia slowly separate ... Exit West is an important, moving, and timely book. As tensions over the current refugee crisis rise around the globe, Hamid’s novel helps us empathize with those compelled to flee. And despite its contemporary resonance, it leaves us with comforting reminder of the age-old promise of immigration: to open a door onto a better life.