Thursday, May 11, 2017

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid

In Hamid’s 2007 breakout novel, The reluctant fundamentalist, the events of 9/11 were still fresh in everyone’s mind.  The threat of radical Islamists attacking felt imminent.  Ten years later, in Exit West, he again has his finger on the pulse of the Zeitgeist, the dissolution of failed states and the rush of immigrants from those areas westward – be it to Europe, England or America.  The novel is set in an unnamed country which is slipping into disorder.  As the novel opens, life is still going on more or less normally for Saeed and Nadia, who met at an evening class on “corporate identity and branding.”  Saeed is bearded, but not in the strict fundamentalist manner, and Nadia wears a flowing black robe that covers her from neck to feet.  Shyly gathering the courage to ask her out, he is startled to learn that she rides a small motorcycle and wears the robe not as a sign of devotion but as a protection from unwanted male gazes.  She is, in fact, the bold one and irreligious.  In defiance of her family, from whom she is estranged,  she lives alone in a rented room passing herself off as a widow.  As they become a couple, their city begins to descend into the chaos of civil conflict.  Saeed’s mother is killed. Ultimately an escape to the west seems the only way forward.  Paying for a guide, they are led to one of the “doors” (a touch of magical realism that works well) that will deposit them into another country, first the Greek island of Mykonos, later to England, and ultimately Marin County, California.  In each place, they and the other immigrants meet with the resistance from “natives” that will be familiar to today’s readers.  Never marrying, Saeed and Nadia will ultimately drift apart and find other partners.  I was taken by the rather hopeful note in the last few pages, set fifty years in the future in the city they left behind.  Essential reading for today.  231 pp.

No comments:

Post a Comment