Last Updated on July 17, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1027
Exit West , Mohsin Hamid's fourth novel, was published in 2017 to immediate critical acclaim. The story follows two young lovers as they flee their war-torn country through a series of magical portals. Through the deft use of magical realism, Hamid explores the contemporary issues that surround the refugee...
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Exit West, Mohsin Hamid's fourth novel, was published in 2017 to immediate critical acclaim. The story follows two young lovers as they flee their war-torn country through a series of magical portals. Through the deft use of magical realism, Hamid explores the contemporary issues that surround the refugee crisis, including immigration, discrimination, and assimilation.
The novel opens with the two main characters, Nadia and Saeed, meeting each other for the first time. They are both taking an adult education class in an unnamed country where the most religious citizens wear long black robes; Nadia is dressed in these conservative robes (though she dresses so to make men leave her alone rather than out of respect for tradition). We quickly learn that the country is unstable and civil war looms on the horizon.
Saeed, being the more conservative of the two, still lives at home with his parents; in contrast, Nadia lives on her own, even though she isn't married. This independnce angers her deeply-religious parents, and it is revealed that Nadia has no contact with her family as a result of her rebelliousness.
We watch Saeed and Nadia begin to date and fall in love as the city around them continues to destabilize, with radicals randomly murdering citizens. Saeed and Nadia often meet at Nadia's apartment in the evenings, but Saeed never has sex with Nadia because he wants to wait until marriage.
War draws closer: the government shuts down cell service in an attempt to prevent the militants from organizing, and Nadia has a traumatic experience when she goes to the bank and, in the middle of a large crowd of people trying to withdraw their money, is groped by a man.
Saeed's mother dies when she is hit by a stray bullet, and Nadia subsequently moves in with Saeed and his father. However, Nadia does not marry Saeed, and so her decision to live with him is blatantly flouting propriety. When the militants finally take over the city, Saeed and Nadia stop going out, and all three of them stay in the house and listen to the violence raging around them.
Saeed and Nadia want to leave the city. They've heard stories of doors that transport people between countries, but these doors are guarded by the militants. They bribe a man to find them a door, but when the time comes to go, Saeed's father won't go—not wanting to be a burden. Saeed and Nadia leave him as they step through the door.
They are transported to Mykonos, Greece, where they find themselves part of a large group of refugees who are living in a migrant camp there. When Nadia kisses Saeed in public, a forbidden act in the city from which they came, Saeed's conservative side flares, and Nadia senses a darker side of him that she hasn't seen before.
Saeed and Nadia are warned not to trust everyone in the camp, so they stay on their guard. One night, they stay out too late fishing for dinner, and a group of men begins to pursue them. In Saeed and Nadia's rush to get away, Nadia hurts herself by skinning her arm on a rock. In their flight, they come across a cabin guarded by militants, which indicates that there is a door inside (as the militants guard the doors). The men chasing Saeed and Nadia disappear.
Left untreated, Nadia's injury begins to fester. Nadia and Saeed are also running out of money and food. When they go to a migrant volunteer organization that will take care of Nadia's arm, they encounter a local Greek girl who promises to help them get through a door. When she delivers on her promise, Nadia and Saeed step through a door that transports them to a beautiful mansion in London. Other migrants begin to arrive in the mansion as well, and they all claim rooms for themselves.
Tensions in London between natives and migrants begin to heighten, as do tensions between Saeed and Nadia. Saeed misses home and uses prayer as a way to stay connected to his homeland. Nadia doesn't understand Saeed's behavior, and a rift begins to grow between them. Meanwhile, the migrants are sectioned off into a part of London renamed "Dark London," which is essentially a ghetto. In a final act of desperation to drive the migrants out, the native Londoners attack. When this fails, they decide to work together with the migrants to build "Halo London," with the migrants agreeing to clear and settle the land around London in exchange for the promise of a piece of property on which to live. Nadia and Saeed eagerly take up the work, sleeping in a tent at night and dreaming of building more permanent housing during the day. They continue to drift apart from one another, however, and finally decide to go through another door in a last-ditch effort to salvage their relationship.
Passing through the door, Nadia and Saeed are now in Marin, California. There is no refugee camp here, so Nadia and Saeed are able to make their own "home" away from others. Though it seems they are beginning to reconnect, Nadia suggests that they let each other go. Saeed has become increasingly religious, and Nadia has found a job at a co-op where she feels more welcome than she does with Saeed. So, they mutually agree to part ways. Nadia moves into the co-op and develops a relationship with someone there, while Saeed marries a native who is a priest's daughter. They talk intermittently, but eventually fall out of touch.
Fifty years later, Nadia returns to her home city—the first time she's been back since she left with Saeed. The country is now at peace. Nadia sees Saeed, and they fill one another in on their lives since they parted ways all those years ago. Nadia asks Saeed if he ever made it to the deserts of Chile, a place he once told her he wanted to see, and Saeed says he'd love to take her there when she has a free evening. As they depart and the novel ends, neither character knows "if that evening would ever come."