South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Title: Exit West; Author: Mohsin Hamid; Publisher: Penguin; Price: Rs. 599

Exit West is a novel of a young couple who leaves their city in search of a new life. Their city is destroyed by militants. Bombing and killing became part of the life. The city was earlier peaceful. In this unnamed city, Saeed and Nadia met in an evening class room on a corporate identity and product branding. Saeed had a beard, but not a full beard. Nadia used to wear black robe. She was not a religious but she was wearing it for the safety. In the first chat with Saeed, she made it clear that she does not pray. Nadia was a confident woman. She was living alone in a city. It was not easy for a woman to live alone in a city which was getting more and more radicalized. Their courtship begins in a war like situation.

The author is Mohsin Hamid. He is known for his earlier novels like The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Discontent and Its Civilizations. He was born and raised mostly in Lahore.

Terrorists managed to control vast rural areas and so refugees started coming to the city in a big number. Gradually, militants entered the city and took control of neighboring areas of Nadia’s house. Saeed is working with an advertising agency and Naida is an employee of an insurance company. Saeed’s mother died in a heavy firing when she was checking their car. Nadia came to Saeed’s house for the first time when his mother was killed and she never returned to her apartment. She liked Saeed’s father. In a conservative society, it is not easy for a woman to live in someone else’s house.

The few remaining local channels were claiming forces are fighting militants and things will change. Full-scale civil war was on. On the other hand, international channels were saying the fall of the city was imminent and an unprecedented flow of migrants was hitting the rich countries. The backdrop of the book is obvious the Syrian scenario and how lakhs of people were trying to migrate to Europe and other countries via Greece. The stories of these refugees are horrible. The refugees were leaving their country with a heavy heart. They were not welcomed by most. Many refugees died on their way. The world was shocked when they saw a picture of a three-year-old Alan Kurdi who died in the Mediterranean Sea on September 2, 2015. He and his family were Syrian refugees and were trying to reach Europe.

The life in the city was becoming extremely difficult and so Saeed and Nadia decided to leave the city and country. They tried to convince Saeed’s father but he refused to leave the city. Eventually, both of them leave. Their journey in search of a peaceful place was not easy. They had to face various kinds of difficulties. They managed to reach Mykonos in Greece first and then to London. There were few lakh migrants in nearby London. They had difficult time. Nativist mobs used to attack migrants. The city government will also cut off their electricity. It was the time of “Britain for British” and Brexit.  The migrants were from many parts of the world. There were problems within them also. Finally, they moved to Marin, San Francisco.

Saeed and Nadia were living together but at the same time they were far from each other. Nadia is bold while Saeed used to pray two-three times daily. Saeed gradually drawn to people of his country of birth, Nadia was reinventing herself. In Marin, they decided to go on their own way. Nadia left the house they had built.

Half a century later Nadia returned to her city of birth for the first time. The city was changed. It was not a haven but it was also not a hell. She met Saeed at a café near her old building. “Above them, bright satellites transited in the darkening sky and the last hawks were returning to the rest of their nests and around them, passersby did not pause to look at this old woman in her black robe or this old man with his stubble.” It is a powerful book which throws light on the city, country where civil wars are on and people have no other option but to migrate.


Updated On:  Sep 10, 2017