Magical Realism and Civil Unrest Collide in Fiction Masterpiece

These days, there are all kinds of immigrant narratives throughout the literature world. As a global society, our interconnectedness has allowed for the telling of both personal triumphs and struggles from all kinds of people.

One of these compelling stories revolving around what it’s like to be a foreigner living in an unfamiliar place is “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid.

But this novel doesn’t provide just any immigrant perspective—it’s literally magical.

As a contemporary writer, Hamid is free to explore different genres within genres—and his take on magical realism fits within his setting of a civil war-torn country on the verge of collapse.

The main characters, Saeed and Nadia, start a relationship in the middle of civil unrest in their home country—and they become more passionate as a result of the growing tensions and anxieties they feel.

Hamid introduces the idea of magical doors, more like portals, capable of helping Saeed and Nadia escape the war of their homeland for “peace” in another country. They travel to a refugee camp in Mykonos and an abandoned mansion in London only to find they don’t really fit in anywhere…together.

In my own opinion, there a couple specific reasons why this book is amazing. For one, I think Hamid uses beautiful writing to really capture the struggles immigrants often face in a really unique way. He takes a very universally human concept, love, and uses it to comment on very current issues that only really impact certain people. I think that’s really hard to do well, and Hamid exceeded my expectations.

Perhaps the best part was Hamid’s discussion of what it means to love someone, and why we do it to begin with. He makes it clear that Saeed and Nadia are possibly not right for each other at all, but one needed the other in order to survive the awful toils of war. In the midst of uncertainty, they needed each other for companionship and support, but once that uncertainty was gone, it was clear they were better off not together.

I think it’s really refreshing to see a book that ends happily, but without the prospects of marriage or lifelong companionship. It feels so much more real, and after an entire novel of tense feelings, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Hamid seems to capitalize on the fact that maybe we don’t all belong together, and that’s okay. We shouldn’t stay in relationships because we feel we have to because of our shared trauma with that person. The best way to maintain a relationship is to know and love yourself first, and it’s necessary to move on and do that if you find the relationship is not based in true love, but rather shared trauma.

Overall, I think this book was immensely profound and intelligent, and we’re all capable of learning from it. It is a quick read, and I would recommend it to anyone.