In ‘Exit West,’ Mohsin Hamid Mixes Global Trouble With a Bit of Magic

Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times:

HamidMohsin Hamid’s dynamic yet lapidary books have all explored the convulsive changes overtaking the world, as tradition and modernity clash headlong, and as refugees — fleeing war or poverty or hopelessness — try to make their way to safer ground. His compelling new novel, “Exit West,” is no exception, recounting the story of the migrants Saeed and Nadia, who leave an unnamed country in the midst of a civil war and journey to Greece, England and eventually the United States in an effort to invent new lives for themselves. The first half of their story is about how war warps everyday life; the second half, a tale of globalization and its discontents. Writing in spare, crystalline prose, Hamid conveys the experience of living in a city under siege with sharp, stabbing immediacy. He shows just how swiftly ordinary life — with all its banal rituals and routines — can morph into the defensive crouch of life in a war zone, with fears of truck bombs and sniper fire and armed soldiers at checkpoints becoming a daily reality, along with constant surveillance from drones and helicopters. He also captures how insidiously violence alters the calculus of daily life: how windows with beautiful views become a liability; how funerals become smaller, more rushed affairs because of fighting in the streets.

The fiercely independent Nadia is feverishly keen to find a way out of the besieged city, and she and her more introspective boyfriend, Saeed, soon find an agent, who, for a fee, promises to supply them with an exit plan. There have been rumors of magical doors that whisk people away to strange and distant lands, and the door that Saeed and Nadia enter transports them to a beach on the Greek island of Mykonos, where hundreds of other migrants are living in tents and lean-tos in a makeshift refugee camp. Later, the couple will try other doorways that take them to other countries, other continents. “It was said in those days,” Hamid writes, “that the passage was both like dying and like being born.”

More here.