A magnificent and timely little novel.
Nadia and Saeed meet as their home city – an unnamed stand-in for any number of strife-torn cities in the Middle East or South Asia today – is encircled by fanatics. They fall in love just as everything they’ve ever known begins to crumble all around them.
But this is not some hopelessly bleak war novel like The Story of a Brief Marriage. It actually has more in common with The Undergound Railroad, in that it uses magical realist metaphor to wonderful effect.
In Colton Whitehead’s (now Pulitzer Prize-winning!) novel, the railroad was real. In Hamid’s book, migrants don’t flee by plane, boat or foot, amassing at borders or in horrible camps; they step through magical doors straight into countries like the US, UK and Australia.
What would happen if the developed world lost all control of its borders in this way? What if millions of desperate people simply appeared in the heart of privileged, first world cities, undeniable and unignorable?
Exit West explores these ideas but keeps its focus fixed firmly on Nadia and Saeed. It is above all a bittersweet love story, tender and melancholic. This is a novel of big ideas that never losss sight of its characters; a book with something to say that’s never preachy or laboured.
This will surely rank among the best books of 2017.