Business Times of Edmond, Oklahoma February 2020 - Page 29

BOOK REVIEW BY CAMERON BRAKE | BEST OF BOOKS Exit West by Mohsin Hamid Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (February 27, 2018) Paperback: 256 pages In Review: Exit West O ne need not be a professional political pollster to know that immigration is right at the center of our current politics. You would be hard pressed to go an entire day without hearing or reading at least one hot take or headline that deals with either the migrant crisis at our southern border or the migrant crisis that has so utterly divided Europe. Immigration was a central issue in the 2016 Presidential election and it was the beating heart of Brexit. As we are now in another Presidential election year, expect the daily deluge of immigration related news coverage to increase. Make no mistake, there is much to be gained from this wealth of immigration-focused reporting. There is, however, a danger in relying solely on the nightly news for any issue as big and complicated and important as immigration. There is more to the story. Like their journalist cousins, fiction writers look at the world’s current migrant crises in order to discover and report back that which is most vital: truth. Mohsin Hamid has done just that with his gorgeous novel, “Exit West.” Hamid takes us into the migrant’s world via Nadia and Saeed. The book begins with their first meeting as they attend a night class for young professionals in an unnamed, predominately Muslim nation. As we are introduced to these two young, educated, incredibly likeable individuals, we are also given a window into daily life in a country on the brink of civil war. Though the nation is never named, the political reality in Nadia and Saeed’s home is all too familiar. Militants are slowly gaining strength and make ever larger attacks on the established government. We are not told if the conflict is driven by religion, ethnicity, or political differences, but, for Nadia and Saeed, these things are ultimately irrelevant. As their romance begins, their country collapses. Hamid’s ability to bring these two people vividly to life is uncanny. Though separated from them by language, culture, and geography, I felt as though I already knew them. Nadia and Saeed are so utterly familiar. They are unquestionably decent. And their world is crumbling around them. Once the militants gain control of their part of the city, and the horrors of living in an active war zone become clear, Nadia and Saeed are forced to make an impossible choice. When the conflict first began there were rumors of doors that could, by some unknown force, transport you to other parts of the world instantaneously. A door in a dentist’s office in Syria that once led you to a storage room now takes you to a hotel lobby in London or a backyard in Tokyo. There is no way to know where it might lead until you walk through it. Initially, these rumors were dismissed as the fantasies of a people made to live in unlivable conditions, but as the threat of violence closes in on them, Nadia, Saeed, and millions of other people from war-torn, impoverished nations all over the world are left with no other option. They must seek out one of these doors. Hamid’s use of magical realism is initially jarring. I found myself imagining how the world would react if, out of nowhere, portals from Syria and Myanmar suddenly allowed millions of people to appear instantly in America or Western Europe. Eventually, however, all of these magically induced geo- political considerations take a back seat to the relationship between Nadia and Saeed. It is the most compelling love story I have read in some time. For a terrible cost, Saeed and Nadia do find a door, and begin their migration westward. Exciting as they are to think about, these magical doors fade in importance next to Hamid’s descriptions of Nadia and Saeed’s transformation into migrants, and all the conflict and hardship that new designation brings. I leave this for you to discover, but know that it is some of the most humanizing writing I have ever encountered. With “Exit West,” Hamid asks we temporarily set aside our own opinions about what governments should do about immigration. Hamid asks that we first consider the individual migrant before considering immigration. This is far from easy, and there are few clean answers. But if there is a good place to start, it is here. “Exit West” is a timely, profoundly gorgeous, deeply human story. REVIEWER CAMERON BRAKE works at Best of Books, Edmond’s independently owned bookstore at 1313 E. Danforth in the Kickingbird Square Shopping Center.  February 2020 | The Business Times 29