Event Reports

BOOK REVIEWS - EXIT WEST

“I can understand it,” [Nadia] said.“Imagine if you lived here. And millionsof people from all over the world suddenlyarrived.”

Mohsin Hamid’s new Man Booker

nominated novel, Exit West, centers on

Saeed and Nadia — two young working

professionals in an unnamed city. Nadia

and Saeed live separate lives in a country

shuddering under a militant religious

civil war. Their lives are difficult.

He is

an observant Muslim dedicated to the

protection of his mother and father. She

is a secular woman willing to skirt the

oppression of religion and bigotry in

private but in public chooses to wear the

hijab as protection.

Saeed is attracted at first to the hijab

she wears, but the attraction builds

when he discovers she is not the

obedient observant woman she appears

at first to be. In the midst of an

increasingly terrifying war a liberating

romance develops between them. As

the bombs and the destruction move

closer, they look for ways out. They

learn of hidden doors that transport a

person instantaneously to any other

place, linking apartments and schools

in countries of suffering and oppression

with mansions and rooftops in places

of peace and abundance. The challenge

for Saeed and Nadia is to find a door.

Nadia and Saeed eventually make their

way to London, only to find it’s not the

safe haven they expect it to be, there

is hostility between the migrants and

the native-born, including attacks and

mob rule. The migrants are eventually

sectioned off in a ghetto with minimal

food and electricity called “Dark London”.

The book explores the couple’s struggle

to acclimatize to their new ‘home’.

With the ‘doors’ Mohsin Hamid in Exit

West creates a powerful metaphor that

helps us make sense of the changing

world we see around us today. There

are no descriptions of life-or-death

journeys in the backs of lorries or on

flimsy vessels. No middle passages. Just

the cognitive shock of having been

freshly transplanted to a tough new

environment. Whether you live in London

or Kampala, you encounter people who

are different and who are in difficult

circumstances. Some may be migrants

from war- torn countries with different

skin color, language, food and religion.

Others may simply be homeless who have

lost their income, their housing and any

sense of direction.

The experience of Nadia and Saeed

made me reflect on the refugee

situation in Uganda. The country

currently hosts almost 1.4 million

refugees, with more than 1 million

who fled South Sudan. Beyond this

massive displacement into northern

Uganda, many settlements in the

southwestern part of the country

are also seeing steady influxes

of refugees from the Democratic

Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi

and Rwanda. Refugees across

Uganda and the world face similar

challenges, women and girls,

frequently mentioned experiencing

disease, poverty, assault, sexual

violence, and intimidation, and

hostility from the host communities.

Hamid’s writing, at times poetic, is

sparse yet captivating, and this work

is a quick read. The magical realism,

is used well, fleetingly and adds to

the main message of the story, one’s

situation is not permanent, a sudden

change in circumstances could make

one a refugee or migrant and we

should remember to treat all people

with basic humanity, regardless of

their origin and circumstances.