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Exit West

By: Mohsin Hamid

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Imprint: Riverhead Books

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780735212176

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From the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a love story that unfolds across the rapidly changing face of a volatile world.   In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . . Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.
For all the popularity of Henry James' characterization of the novel as being “a loose baggy monster,” there are also novels that don't feel the least bit loose or baggy, but are taut and meticulously shaped. “Exit West,” Mohsin Hamid's fourth novel, is one such book, a short, urgent missive in which each detail gleams with authorial intent.
—San Francisco Chronicle
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.
—Los Angeles Times
This novel simply operates on another plane. Mohsin Hamid's urgent, elegant EXIT WEST manages to be both timely and timeless: a fierce indictment and a subtle literary masterpiece.... Hamid gives voice to refugees, recognizing them before they had to seek refuge and almost never naming them as such. He breathes exquisite life into what, in many ways, has been reduced to “a contentious issue,” and to call the result heartbreaking and moving feels almost trite. EXIT WEST is an authentic story of identity, placelessness, love and loss, and is undoubtedly a timeless must read.
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.... [I]f 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.
—Boston Globe
The backdrop for “Exit West” is both the plight of refugees from places like Syria and the specter of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Hamid takes full advantage of our familiarity with these scenes to turn “Exit West” into an urgent account of war, love and refugees.... 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. It is also a possible world.
—New York Times
Reading Mohsin Hamid's penetrating, prescient new novel feels like bearing witness to events that are unfolding before us in real time. In particular, Hamid explores the fear, limbo and uncertainty experienced by immigrants and refugees as they leave their home countries under dire circumstances and try to resettle in the West.... 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.
—Seattle Times
A dark fable for our turbulent time, Exit West, Mohsin Hamid's terse fourth novel, portrays a world of transience, violence, and insecurity that rhymes with our world of porous borders and rabid tribalists.... Though brief interludes report on characters in Australia, La Jolla, Vienna, Amsterdam and Marrakesh, the focus of the novel is on the evolution of the relationship between Nadia and Saeed. The palpable perils of establishing and maintaining contact in their troubled city lends a piquancy to their initial meetings and stimulates intimacy.... Though it spans more than 50 years, Exit West does not specify the dates. We do not learn the names of most of the characters, and Nadia and Saeed are never given last names. The effect is to conjure up a bewildering, violent world that resonates with our own, in which anonymous masses swarm across arbitrary borders.
—Dallas Morning News
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. Mr. Hamid has more success developing the relationship between Nadia and Saeed and in tracing its slow, affecting dissolution.... 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.
—Wall Street Journal
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 has written his most lyrical and piercing novel yet, destined to be one of this year's landmark achievements.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
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.
Such a story is obviously timely. Given Hamid's characteristically reflective and iconoclastic approach, it's also indispensable; it gets us past the anger and the shouting, freeing us to see what the third-person narrator tells us late in this story: “We are all migrants through time.”... But for all its sadness, “Exit West” is a hopeful book. Hamid doesn't avoid or sugarcoat the heartache and hurt accompanying contradiction and change, as people “all over the world were slipping away from where they had been.” But he also has the courage to accept mortality as inevitable and see change as an opportunity.
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Writing in spare, crystalline prose, Hamid conveys the experience of living in a city under siege with sharp, stabbing immediacy.... Hamid does a harrowing job of conveying what it is like to leave behind family members, and what it means to leave home, which, however dangerous or oppressive it's become, still represents everything that is familiar and known.... 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.
—New York Times
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.... Hamid's prose is a mix of clinical detachment and run-on-sentence urgency.... 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.
—Chicago Tribune
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.... Writers should be wise, and Hamid is wiser than many — an unobtrusive wisdom born in wry counterpoint to ruin... 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. If in its physical and perilous immediacy Nadia and Saeed's condition is alien to the mass of us, “Exit West” makes a final, certain declaration of affinity: “We are all migrants through time.”
—Washington Post
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