Exit West: Doors to the Unknown

In Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, migrants find themselves searching for safety despite constant threats from people who want to enforce borders, such as the militants in Saeed and Nadia’s city or the nativists in London. Yet, for Saeed and Nadia, the world has opened itself up in a mysterious but beautiful way, as doors are appearing that transport anyone who walks through them to other parts of the world. In this way, the doors transcend boundaries set by governments to restrict movement between nations. Although, using these doors leads to new kinds of divisions that have less to do with physical divisions than with socially constructed separations.

Typically, stories about refugees/migration focus on the transit, the journey to their destination. Yet, in Exit West, Hamid tells a story of migration in which the migrant’s journey is compressed into an instant. Hamid uses the symbol of a door, through which migrants pass almost seamlessly from one country to another as Nadia and Saeed do, from their unnamed city, to the Greek island of Mykonos, then to London, and then to Marin County, in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Throughout the novel, Hamid intersperses vignettes, or doors, to other people and places around the world. For example, while contemplating suicide, a man in England comes across a portal to Namibia, where he remakes his life. Also, when refugees emerge from doors in San Diego, an elderly veteran asks the police if he help; they ask him to leave, and the veteran realizes that he, like the migrants, doesn’t have anywhere to go.

Particularly, I think Hamid’s way of writing the novel is very interesting. While most stories about migration focus on the transit rather than the destination, Hamid wrote about the destination rather than the transit. I think the symbol of the doors was an intriguing part of the story, and it gives the reader a peek into the lives of other characters, many whose lives are completely different than Saeed and Nadia’s.

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