More than Romance
Exit West is much more than the simple story of romance it contains. The boon of this book is that it ventures outside of itself to reach across time and space.
Portals disguised as ordinary doors have popped up all over the world that Saeed and Nadia inhabit. These are mysterious entrances to new places and new opportunities. The doors have no rules, instead opening up to random locations with no rhyme or reason.
Or perhaps with some reason.
For each detour Hamid allows himself from the main plot, he takes the time to describe someone else’s story with the doors. Often these people are led to new love or companionship. Or a way out. Or, a way in.
Hamid on Humanity
Hamid has stripped down humanity to its most basic emotional needs. He offers little in terms of conflict, and much in terms of enlightenment. He speculates on what it means for one human to need the company of another human: a relationship in its most raw and unadulterated form.
That this is juxtaposed against the backdrop of civil war makes the sentiment all the more intriguing.
The romance Hamid puts together is not the spicy longing that is so contemporary and popular, but a relationship that is cool and timeless. Saeed and Nadia feel as two people who could find each other over hundreds of reincarnated lives. And yet, they stay true to the everyday as well. Saeed and Nadia have silly arguments as couples do. They play an excellent balancing act between the star-crossed generational symbol of love and the couple-next-door.
Surrealism in Exit West
Perhaps my favorite part about the novel is the way the prose casts the story in a smokey, surrealist light, but without doing anything outright surrealist. Other than the mysterious doors, the universe and the world that the main characters live in is very much our own. There are cellphones and office buildings among other things that would be considered boringly mundane. And Hamid’s prose is not fanciful. It is simple and elegant, opting for universal truths over flowery words. Yet, he’s managed to capture something without revealing his methods.
In other words, something about Exit West is magical and I haven’t been able to pinpoint it.
In what I might consider to be a “low-magic universe” Hamid builds a world that caters to all of humanity, not just the main characters. He gives life to a wide setting, and to a small set of actors in whom everyone can find pieces of themselves. In the end, Exit West is less about the escape and more about where one ends up, and whom one ends up with.
Read Exit West as the chaser to a book that has ripped out your soul and torn it to shreds. Exit West will fix you up.