In Exit West, Hamid explores various different themes by subverting the reader’s expectations about relationships, Muslims, and migration. I specifically liked the way he showed the nuances of relationships and developed a theme of how along with a change in place, comes a change in people. As he explained in his book talk, often times migrants are dehumanized and characterized solely as “the other” by westerners. Thus, we tend to forget that these people have intense relationships, homes, and families that are all hard to leave.
I found it really powerful how he went through the different stages of romantic relationships between Saeed’s parents and also Nadia and Saeed. The inclusion of the passage about Saeed’s parent’s sex life subverted my preconceived notions about how parents and devout relgious people normally act. The mom initated sex more often and shared a passionate relationship with her husband in the beginning stages of the relationship. Overtime, their sex life fizzled down, but the they were still each other’s best friends and thus stayed together until the mom got killed. Additionally, I liked how in both the description of Saeed’s mother and Nadia, Hamid characterized the women as more sexually aggressive and thereby flipped the male/female binary.
Although I didn’t want to see Nadia and Saeed grow apart, I thought the ending was both fitting and realistic. It’s no question that going through such a large event like migrating to a different country changes people, so it makes sense they separated. I also liked that they were able to amicably separate, something that is rarely seen in movies or books today. It is expected that relationships have to end when people develop a deep hatred for one another, but in this case they chose to end on good terms and still have occasional contact. I thought it was a very sweet ending where they were able to reflect on their time together and be at peace that they didn’t marry, but still smile at their past.