Exit West (Hamid)

Exit West 
Mohsin Hamid, 2017
Penguin Publishing
240 pp.ref

Shortlisted, 2017 Man Booker Prize

An astonishingly visionary love story that imagines the forces that drive ordinary people from their homes into the uncertain embrace of new lands

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city.

When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Lahore, Pakistan
Education—B.A., Princeton University; J.D., Harvard University
Awards—Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; Asian American Literary Award
Currently—lives in Lahore, Pakistan; London, England, UK; New York, NY, USA

Mohsin Hamid is a British Pakistani novelist and writer. His novels are Moth Smoke (2000), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013), and Exit West (2017).

Early life and education
Hamid spent part of his childhood in the United States, where he stayed from the age of 3 to 9 while his father, a university professor, was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Stanford University. He then moved with his family back to Lahore, Pakistan, and attended the Lahore American School.

At the age of 18, Hamid returned to the U.S. to continue his education. He graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude in 1993, having studied under the writers Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison. Hamid wrote the first draft of his first novel for a fiction workshop taught by Morrison. He returned to Pakistan after college to continue working on it.

Hamid then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1997. Finding corporate law boring, he repaid his student loans by working for several years as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company in New York City. He was allowed to take three months off each year to write, and he used this time to complete his first novel Moth Smoke.

Hamid moved to London in the summer of 2001, initially intending to stay only one year. Although he frequently returned to Pakistan to write, he continued to live in London for eight years, becoming a dual citizen of the United Kingdom in 2006.

Moth Smoke, tells the story of a marijuana-smoking ex-banker in post-nuclear-test Lahore who falls in love with his best friend's wife and becomes a heroin addict. Published in 2000, it quickly became a cult hit in Pakistan and India. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award given to the best first novel in the US, and was adapted for television in Pakistan and as an operetta in Italy.

His second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, told the story of a Pakistani man who decides to leave his high-flying life in America after a failed love affair and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It was published in 2007 and became a million-copy international best seller, reaching No.4 on the New York Times Best Seller list. The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, won several awards including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award, and was translated into over 25 languages. The Guardian selected it as one of the books that defined the decade.

Like Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist was formally experimental. The novel used the unusual device of a dramatic monologue in which the Pakistani protagonist continually addresses an American listener who is never heard from directly. (Hamid has said The Fall by Albert Camus served as his model.)

His third novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, was excerpted by The New Yorker in their September 24, 2012 issue and by Granta in their Spring 2013 issue. As with his previous books, it bends conventions of both genre and form. Narrated in the second person, it tells the story of the protagonist's ("your") journey from impoverished rural boy to tycoon in an unnamed contemporary city in "rising Asia," and of his pursuit of the nameless "pretty girl" whose path continually crosses but never quite converges with his. Stealing its shape from the self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over "rising Asia," the novel is playful but also quite profound in its portrayal of the thirst for ambition and love in a time of shattering economic and social upheaval. In her New York Times review of the novel, Michiko Kakutani called it "deeply moving," writing that How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia "reaffirms [Hamid's] place as one of his generation's most inventive and gifted writers."

Hamid's 2017 novel, Exit West, is about a young couple, Nadia and Saeed, and their relationship in a time where the world is taken by storm by migrants.

Hamid has also written on politics, art, literature, travel, and other topics, most recently on Pakistan's internal division and extremism in an op-ed for the New York Times. His journalism, essays, and stories have appeared in Time, The Guardian, Dawn, New York Times, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Paris Review, and other publications. In 2013 he was named one of the world's 100 Leading Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine.

Personal life
Hamid moved to Lahore in 2009 with his wife Zahra and their daughter Dina. He now divides his time between Pakistan and abroad, living between Lahore, New York, London, and Mediterranean countries including Italy and Greece. Hamid has described himself as a "mongrel" and has said of his own writing that "a novel can often be a divided man’s conversation with himself." (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 3/17/2017.)

Book Reviews
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…[and] how insidiously violence alters the calculus of daily life.… By mixing the real and the surreal, and using old fairy-tale magic, Hamid has created a fictional universe that captures the global perils percolating beneath today’s headlines.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times

Hamid exploits fiction's capacity to elicit empathy and identification to imagine a better world. It is also a possible world. Exit West does not lead to utopia, but to a near future and the dim shapes of strangers that we can see through a distant doorway. All we have to do is step through it and meet them.
Viet Thanh Nguyen - New York Times Book Review (cover)

No novel is really about the cliche called "the human condition," but good novels expose and interpret the particular condition of the humans in their charge, and this is what Hamid has achieved here. If in its physical and perilous immediacy Nadia and Saeed’s condition is alien to the mass of us, Exit West makes a final, certain declaration of affinity: "We are all migrants through time."
Washington Post

In gossamer-fine sentences, Exit West weaves a pulse-raising tale of menace and romance, a parable of our refugee crisis, and a poignant vignette of love won and lost.… Let the word go forth: Hamid has written his most lyrical and piercing novel yet, destined to be one of this year’s landmark achievements.
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Hamid doesn’t avoid or sugarcoat the heartache and hurt accompanying contradiction and change, as people "all over the world were slipping away from where they had been." But he also has the courage to…see change as an opportunity.
Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

With great empathy, Hamid skillfully chronicles the manic condition of involuntary migration… Exit West rattles our perception of home.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A dark fable for our turbulent time, Exit West…portrays a world of transience, violence, and insecurity that rhymes with our world of porous borders and rabid tribalists.
Dallas Morning News

Hamid rewrites the world as a place thoroughly, gorgeously, and permanently overrun by refugees and migrants.… But, still, he depicts the world as resolutely beautiful and, at its core, unchanged. The novel feels immediately canonical, so firm and unerring is Hamid’s understanding of our time and its most pressing questions.

A remarkable accomplishment…not putting a human face on refugees so much as putting a refugee face on all of humankind.… Hamid’s writing—elegant and fluid…—makes Exit West an absorbing read, but the ideas he expresses and the future he’s bold enough to imagine define it as an unmissable one.

Hamid’s timely and spare new novel confronts the inevitability of mass global immigration, the unbroken cycle of violence and the indomitable human will to connect and love.
Huffington Post

Hamid’s storytelling is stripped down, and the book’s sweeping allegory is timely and resonant. Of particular importance is the contrast between the migrants’ tenuous daily reality and that of the privileged second- or third-generation native population who’d prefer their new alien neighbors to simply disappear.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) Both mellifluous and jarring, this novel is a profound meditation on the unpredictable temporality of human existence and the immeasurable cost of widespread enmity. —Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
Library Journal

(Starred review.) [A] richly imaginative tale of love and loss in the ashes of civil war.… One of the most bittersweet love stories in modern memory and a book to savor even while despairing of its truths.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Exit West...then take off on your own:

1. In what way does war distort everyday life for those who live in its midst? How does Mohsin Hamid convey the fear of truck bombs and snipers, armed checkpoints and surveillance drones? What effect does it have on the people who live through it? Have you ever lived in a war zone?

2. Describe Nadia and Saeed, their outward personalities and inner thoughts. Nadia is more driven, perhaps, while Saeed is more introspective. What attracts them to one another?

3. After the two leave home, they end up in a makeshift refugee camp. Talk about what that was like?

4. In the couple's attempts to immigrate to other countries and other continents, Hamid writes, "It was said in those days that the passage was both like dying and like being born." What do you think he means?

5. Why do you think the author uses the device of a magical door, almost as if purposely recalling C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? In what way is crossing territories, always under threat of thirst, punishing heat and sun, or frigid nights, comparable to stepping through a magic door?

6. Saeed continues to pray. What is he praying for? What does he believe prayer is about?

7. How does the hardship of exile change Saeed? How does it change Nadia, who seems more adaptable? Most of all, how does it test—and ultimately change—their relationship?

8. The primary story of Nadia and Saeed is interrupted with stories of threats and travails in other corners of the world. For what purpose might Hamid have interjected those brief scenarios?

9. How does each new home they settle in receive the couple? How are they made to feel? How well do they blend in to the existing cultures and population?

10. What does one of the book's final declarations mean: "We are all migrants through time."

(Questions issued by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online of off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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