02 Feb / Exit West by Mohsin Hamid [in Library Journal]
“We are all migrants through time,” observes Man Booker Prize short-lister Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist). The impulses driving such movement, especially when rooted in violent conflict, is at the core of Hamid’s exceptional fourth novel.
In an unnamed city (not unlike the author’s native Lahore, Pakistan), Saeed and Nadia meet, find love, and expect to share a future, but a militant takeover forces them to flee their homeland. Hamid reveals their tenuous journey from a dream-like distance – escape, for example, happens through “doors” only accessible via the right contact at the right price – that perfectly blends reality with fable-like parable.
While focusing the narrative spotlight on his lovers-on-the-run, Hamid regularly interrupts the couple’s peregrinations with snapshot interludes – a potential murder in Tokyo, a woman threatened in Vienna, an aging grandmother in Palo Alto – that serve as reminders that life (and death) continues for everyone else, everywhere else, every which way. Both mellifluous and jarring, Exit West is a profound meditation on the unpredictable temporality of human existence and the immeasurable cost of widespread enmity.
Verdict: Libraries would do well to acquire this and all of Hamid’s extraordinary titles. Fans of affecting international fiction – think Kazuo Ishiguro, Kamila Shamsie, Adam Johnson – will be especially satisfied.