Exit West

Hamid does a good job of obliquely referring to “government” and “militants” and a war involving bombing, street machine gun fights and lynchings in a Middle Eastern country that could easily be Syria or another couple of cities where Islam is used as an identifier of political side.

In this dangerous city we meed Saeed and Nadia– two regular young folks who try to live a normal life and courtship amidst the danger where Nadia waits for texts from Saeed to know he has made it home alive after a meeting, religious values forbid unmarried young folks from being seen in public, and their future is entirely uncertain.

This begins as if it will be a regular narrative third-person story, but it kind of dissolves into a more nebulous telling of some kind of fable. We do not stay with Saeed and Nadia all the time, we branch off into other folks in other countries…and sometimes I was left not really sure what the connection was, other than to create a dreamy atmosphere or sense of how moving from one’s city or country might feel.

But the framework of the story, Saeed and Nadia escape their city through a speculative fiction element– magic doors that open into specific places like Mykonos or London– and must endure life in a refugee camp, “nativist” backlash to an influx of immigrants from all over, and ultimately how they occupy their refugee status inside their relationship.

It is a love story, and it definitely evoked Magical Realism feelings a la Allenda or Marquez, but Hamid’s story is more about how we perceive our own homes than a love story between people. Beautiful, fabulist, sometimes confusing. Slow-paced meditation.