This month we read Exit West by the Pakistani author, Mohsin Hamid. The novel follows two students, Nadia and Saeed, in an unnamed third world city. Saeed is more conservative, living at home, as is generally customary and praying regularly. Nadia is more independent minded, has left home, being disowned by her parents as a consequence, rides a motorbike but still wears a full black robe for protection.
As civil war develops and militants wrest control of their city, Nadia and Saeed’s relationship accelerates, as do their dreams of moving away. Eventually they flee, first to a tent city on Mykonos and then to a squat in London. The couple begin to drift apart but stay together out of loyalty and for survival until, ultimately, they move to California where they find jobs and separate.
The views of the group on this book were somewhat mixed. Themes of migration and migrants are interestingly explored and the dreadful conditions under which the refugees live in the various camps are well drawn. Hamid uses a system of doors through which people pass to move from one location to another – magical and avoiding long descriptions of difficult migrant journeys – or unrealistic and ultimately irritating? The main story is also interspersed with brief vignettes, set in different, affluent, western cities, such as Sydney, Tokyo and Vienna. Initially it was difficult to see how these fitted with the story but perhaps they are a way of illustrating Hamid’s theme that we are all, in some ways, migrants.
Some of the story seems current and topical, other aspects futuristic. In London, in particular,there are millions of migrants living in “Dark London”, where the government restricts electricity and food. Ultimately, after a failed and violent attempt to move out the migrants, they are put to work building “Halo London” on what was the Green Belt.
Plenty of food for thought.
Our future reading list is as follows:
May Klara and the Sun Kazuo Ishiguro
Jun The Course of Love Alain de Botton
July This Lovely City Louisa Hare
Auguser Open Water Caleb Azumah Nelson
September Beautiful World Where Are You Sally Rooney
Octover Love After Love Ingrid Persaud
November Frostquake Juliet Nicolson