Exit West into a New Place

One of my favorite Stephen King short stories is called The Jaunt, which is collected in his book of short stories called The Skeleton Crew. The story is about a father telling his kids the history behind the “Jaunting” technology they are about to use to teleport to Mars. The technology allows someone to teleport from one place to another through portals. It revolutionizes everything.

I was thinking of this story as I was listening to Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid talk about his new book Exit West at a book signing in San Francisco. 

I knew the book was about migration and that’s about it. Because I read whatever Hamid writes, I didn’t need to know much more than that to pick up the book.

What I didn’t know is how that migration happens. I expected that I was buying a book about visas and people trying to cross the border under the cover of darkness. Not that I would have minded that as I figured Hamid would have made it interesting.

It’s not that at all. Not even a little.

In Exit West, throughout the world, people have been finding doors that are able to transport people instantly from one place to another, depending on which door one goes through. I honestly didn’t think I heard right when Hamid talked about these doors in the context of his book at his signing.

Exit West begins in an unnamed country in Asia where Saeed and Nadia meet and enter into a relationship amidst an increasing state of violence in their homeland. They decide to leave the country, especially after hearing about these black doors which were initially dismissed as a fantastical rumor.

Hamid explores the dynamic of Saeed and Nadia’s relationship after they pass through those doors. These two are essentially now relying on each other. There’s no longer the escape that comes with going back to one’s respective house at the end of a night. Through Saeed and Nadia, we also see the effects these doors have on the world at large as there are ramifications to not only those who can escape their homeland to find refuge in another place, but to also those who are living in the lands that others are now finding themselves in.

I read through Exit West in a weekend, finding myself re-reading passages at times to make sure I took the time to absorb the language. I hadn’t read a novel in such a long time – my own fault for not finding the time to read – that it felt so great to delve into Hamid’s words, even if that did mean neglecting all my other responsibilities for a weekend.

Besides that bit of a fantastical element of portals appearing out of nowhere, Exit West doesn’t have any other sci-fi aspects to it. If you’re one of those people who don’t read science fiction then, give this book a chance. On the flipside, if you would rather have more science fiction in your literature than what this book offers, still do read Exit West. Because… portals.

If you aren’t familiar with Mohsin Hamdi’s books, Exit West is a good entry point. Accidentally timely, Exit West is that one book on migration you didn’t even know you were looking for.

SIDE NOTE: Do read Stephen King’s The Jaunt. Please don’t cheat and read the summary. I’ll know if you do.

2 thoughts

  1. Well, guess I have to read it now :)

    Yeah when I heard about it was about migration but then read a more detailed synopsis and that Fresh Air interview, I was a bit disappointed, (I’m not into sci-fi or thrillers – I think one reason I decided not to read Alif the Unseen, though I might have to reconsider that – as I do love G. Willow Wilson’s writing after The Butterfly Mosque).

    As always ,thanks for the review Bushra.

    1. It’s definitely not a “science fiction” novel so give it a go if you were thinking about it before! I enjoyed Alif the Unseen as well but that definitely is more fantastical so if that’s not your thing, then not sure you would enjoy it (although I do recommend it!).

Leave a Reply