Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid - 5/10*
Exit West had the potential to be the greatest novel published in the last ten years. I don’t say such things liberally; it really did have a certain power due to it being so politically conscious, though somehow it failed to deliver what it could have done.
Let us rewind a little. Exit West begins in an undisclosed east, in a city at war. The corrupt government is subsequently toppled and the new regime isn’t exactly any better. The ordinary citizens, those with no particular political ties, are forced to do whatever they are told by whoever happens to be in power. Post-revolutionaries don’t exactly make life any better.
Enter Nadia and Saeed. They fall in love in the chaos that is approaching. The real world matters are pushed aside as they deal with the only real matter in their lives. They ignore the gunfire and the explosions and simply live for each other. Everything else is inconsequential until their lives become drastically threatened. Their freedom is a risk and as such they long for escape; they wish to leave the east and, as the title suggests, exit west. They leave much behind them in their bid for freedom though they know that, ultimately, it is worth it because they have each other. And here’s where the novel goes shooting down the toilet at light speed.
The only thing that would save it for me is a drastic re-writing of the last one hundred pages. As soon as the lovers exited west, all power the story had was wasted because of the mundane nature of what they then faced. I needed drama and I needed angry people and contentious political comment. Instead I got nothing. And this is where the novel’s potential was missed. What began as a political allegory ended as a petty domestic dispute. It would have been far more effective if when Nadia and Saeed finally exited west, they were met with all the issues surrounding immigration and refugees. I wanted to see hostility and fear in the eyes of the westerners, I wanted to Moshin Hamid tackle one of the most politically sensitive issues of our age. Had he written such a thing, from the perspective of the refugee, I think it would have been an exceedingly timely piece of writing.
It fell apart. Nadia and Saeed focus on matters of survival as the narrative goes absolutely nowhere. They shift from place to place as no progress is made within the writing other than the slow degrading of their relationship. For me, it all felt like one terribly large wasted opportunity. The author could have done so much more here.
And to quote the author to illustrate my point:
“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”
When the characters migrated, Hamid murdered the potential of this novel leaving it behind in the dust. It was such a bitter disappointment because this novel could have been exceptional: it so nearly was.