Time is a Jeremy Bearimy

In the show The Good Place, during Season 3 Episode 4, the concept of time in the afterlife is explained. On Earth, time is a straight line and events move chronologically. In the afterlife, time moves in a fluid chaotic line, which happens to look like the name Jeremy Bearimy.

Jeremy Bearimy. Past, present, and future are one and… | by HB | Medium
Jeremy Bearimy Diagram from The Good Place

This idea that time and reality aren’t related to each other got me thinking about the book Exist West by Mohsin Hamid, where Hamid created the doors that allow people to migrate instantaneously. According to Hamid, he wrote these doors as a plot device to allow him to not make the story all about the migration journey, but rather the feelings and experiences before migrating and once arriving to a new location.

My question is how do those doors work?

In this universe that Hamid created, time is exactly as we know it except in the instance of moving through the doors. There is no way for you, sitting there right now at home, to walk through a door located in The United States and end up in Greece only a couple minutes later. This balance between time and changing location reminded me of Jeremy Bearimy, where some times the line of time crosses back over itself, loops are created within the line, and there is even a dot above the eye (which according to the diagram signifies Tuesdays, July, Sometimes Never, and The Moment When Nothing Never Happens). The unbelievable, whimsical and chaotic reasoning of time helps explain away some plot holes within the show, and could also have been inspired similar to Hamid’s inspiration to make his migration instantaneous.

Open to New Things🚪

For me, the most interesting aspect of the novel “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid is how Hamid utilizes “doors” in his story. Nadia and Saeed travel many times throughout the book and each time there is always the mention of the doors they had to go through in order to reach their destination. These doors are written almost as if they were supernatural or magical. However, after reading about these “doors” time and time again, I began to believe that they were a form of symbolism for something else (methods of escape). After a lot of planning with their agent, Saeed and Nadia finally decided to leave their home country behind. When they arrived at the seemingly abandoned dentist’s clinic, they are forced to wait in a crowd of other people trying to flee the country as well. When they are finally summoned to the dentist’s office to go through the door, they seem to be reluctant and have many worries about actually stepping through. As Saeed and Nadia approach the door, “She (Nadia) was struck by its darkness, its opacity, the way that it did not reveal what was on the other side, and also did not reflect what was on this side, and so felt equally like a beginning and an end…she took his(Saeed’s) hands in hers and held them tight, and then, releasing them, and without a word, she stepped through”(103-104). Based on the way this quotation is written, I am still a little unsure as to whether or not Hamid intended the doors to actually be supernatural in nature, or just symbolism for means of escape. The way Hamid presents them, the travel from one place to the next seems almost instantaneous (though he could just be leaving out the journey). However, I believe that Hamid’s intention was to provide good insight into what people fleeing their home country must feel like. This quotation demonstrates how when escaping a country, there is a lot of uncertainty as to where the end of the journey will be. There seems to be a lot of risk involved as well, as it could mean the beginning of a new life, or the end of a current one. The doors in “Exit West” can be interpreted in many ways but in my opinion, they add new layers to the story that makes it a lot more interesting.

First Love Never Die

Comparing Nostalgia And Bittersweet Young Love In Exit West And Norwegian Wood

For the past several months, I have been sporadically reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. The novel is a quintessential piece by the renowned Japanese author, often being the most popular of his works amongst American audiences. The coming of age love story of Norwegian Wood sets itself apart from the rest of Murakami’s writings. As seen in our short stories unit, Murakami’s works (The Elephant Vanishes, Barn Burning) are heralded for being jarring, fantastical, and action packed thrillers that defy the norm of Japan’s 20th century canon. However Norwegian Wood seemed to defy Murakami’s rejection of simple, worldly fiction by depicting a seemingly simple and relatively plain love story.

Warning! Some mild spoilers for Norwegian Wood are ahead.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

“I do need that time, though, for Naoko’s face to appear. And as the years have passed, the time has grown longer. The sad truth is that what I could recall in five seconds all too soon needed ten, then thirty, then a full minute – like shadows lengthening at dusk. Someday, I suppose, the shadows will be swallowed up in darkness. There is no way around it: my memory is growing ever more distant from the spot where Naoko used to stand – ever more distant from the spot where my old self used to stand.

“Murakami, Haruki. Norwegian Wood, p. 5.

“If they had but waited and watched their relationship would have flowered again, and so their memories took on potential, which is of course how our greatest nostalgias are born.”

Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West, p. 204.

Exit West chronicles Nadia and Saeed’s burgeoning, thriving, and finally–withering relationship with the same nuance and underlying bittersweet nostalgia that poignantly mark Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. Toru, the narrator of Norwegian Wood regales the story through a retrospective documentation of his memories, while Exit West takes on a more timely and omniscient narrative approach. Towards the end of Exit West, the novel unflinchingly portrays the distancing between two people and the transition from recent past to fading memory. These themes are prominent in Norwegian Wood as Toru learns how to devastatingly confront pain and loss. Similar to Nadia and Saeed, Toru and Naoko fall in love under tragic circumstances which bring to question if either couple were ever really in love at all – or if they were only bound by their shared traumas.

Toru and Naoko are linked by the death of Kizuki (Toru’s best friend and Naoko’s boyfriend). They connect through their mutual grieving, and throughout the course of the book, their relationship carries the fragility and sadness that united them in the first place. Similarly, Nadia and Saeed are brought closer by the political upheaval and violence that plagues their home country. Both couples are inextricably linked, even as they grow apart, because their partners are the only ones in the world who could ever understand what happened to them. In a way this is true for all relationships, but this deep understanding and shared experience is much stronger when trauma, death, and survival are involved.

Similarly both novels address young sexuality and passion under a similar light. This uniquely marks the characters’ journeys into adulthood. The couples’ physical intimacy adds another layer of nuance to their connection, but in both pieces their emotional attachment is far more intense. This layered, rich portrayal of both their connections leaves the reader longing and aching, for a time that never was or would never be. Both Hamid and Murakami capture the passage of time in a beautiful and familiar way. It is not easy to portray such complicated relationships in such a full, dynamic way – yet both authors mightily succeed at doing so.

Understanding Who We Are

In many ways, novelist Mohsin Hamid’s book, Exit West, is a universal story, not bound to time or place but rather to the story of humanity on earth.

With our facade of geographical boundaries, it can seem like our world is efficiently divided in such a way that everyone is born where they belong. But to suggest that humanity has ever been permanently sedentary is to reject our history. Hamid challenges the predominantly western perspective of migration. He exposes the privilege we all hold from remaining where we are. Yet, he intentionally creates a kind of portal of understanding, a sort of relatable take on the very real story of main character’s Saeed and Nadia.

Hamid incorporates a fantastical element to his story through the use of doors. Not regular doors, but doors that are a means of escape, a transportation system that simultaneously speeds the story of migration while also slowing down the significance of the journey. He uses this detour to focus on the undeniably human story of Saeed and Nadia. We have a lot to learn from Hamid. This book alters our notions of migration and questions the idea of the global other. We ought to consider that as a migratory species, spread farther across the globe than any other living being, we are stewards of the earth. Thus, it is our responsibility to let go of our geographical entitlement and treat the world as the shifting, immigrated, and emigrated planet it is.

I believe that we can all take away great values from this book. This is not just a story, but a lesson of empathy, faith, suffering, and movement. This is the human experience.

Perspective

The idea of an other is something is typically thought of as something negative, something/someone that you have no relation to, nothing in common. For instance, refugees are often not thought of as people like ourselves that just unfortunately have been tough circumstances but as totally different human beings, people that are invading other countries rather than focusing on their own. One thing I think is an interesting point is when people make the argument about the United States, is the saying “if you’re not happy here then leave” which is amusing to be because oftten the people that are saying this phrase are people that are against immigration despite the idea that that phrase agrees with the idea that if a person is not happy in their own country (refugees) then they should have the ability to find a life by leaving their war torn countries.

Back to Hamid’s approach for Exit West, Hamid narrates in a way that forces the reader to question why people consider refugees to be significantly different than them. He includes information like Saeed and Nadias relationship with their phones. Additionally, Hamid addresses how difficult it can be for a refugee to have to leave their home and their family and the life that they are comfortable with. I think by exposing details like this it helps the reader see refugees from a more personal prospective.

Dissent

In looking over recent blog posts, it seems like there are a lot of people arguing about the broader messages of Exit West and ideas it brings up. In fact, by my count there are at least 17 posts in the last few weeks who’s title includes some form of the word “other,” a word that, somewhat amusingly, appears in the actual book only 5 times. In light of this, I think it might be worthwhile to examine the book on it’s own merits — independent of broader societal or social ideas that might contextualize it. The question I intend to tackle is this; as a work of art, as a piece of fiction, is Exit West “good?”

As a prerequisite to tackling this question, I must establish a criteria by which to measure the novel’s “goodness.” While there are certainly a variety of ways to conduct such a measurement, I will use Nabokov’s standard for a good writer laid out in Good Readers and Good Writers for two reasons. First, it is a standard with which I personally agree and already has substantial arguments in its favor laid out by Nabokov in the actual essay. Second, it is the standard we established in class at the beginning of the year. The rest of this post will focus entirely on my interpretation of Nabokov’s standards and weather or not Exit West aligns with them; if you disagree with those a-priori standards then I suggest you stop reading now.

So, what does Nabokov demand of a good writer? For clarity’s sake, I will follow the chronological order of Nabokov’s work in outlining each standard. The first such standard for good writing appears at the beginning of the 4th paragraph of Nabokov’s essay but is most poetically summarized near the end of that paragraph; “The material of this world may be real enough (as far as reality goes) but does not exist at all as an accepted entirety: it is chaos, and to this chaos the author says “go!” allowing the world to flicker and to fuse. It is now recombined in its very atoms, not merely in its visible and superficial parts.” Nabokov is arguing that a good writer does not simply take the world as it exists and modify it or mold it to illustrate a point; a good writer, through the artistic process, completely reconceptualizes the meaning of the universe and uses the novel as a lens to provide insight into that new world.

So, where does Exit West fall in all of this? Well, the most notable “recombination” in the world of the novel — one which generally mirrors ours — is the inclusion of doors between different parts of the world. And what is the relevance of these doors from a literary perspective? Hamid answers this question directly during a book talk in 2017, explaining how “the doors in a way allowed me to focus on the sorrow of the departure and also the radical change that happens in a new place, while not having to spend so much time on how we get from place to place. Because so often we think of migrants and we think of refugees and we think how did they cross the Rio Grande…so different from me” (13:50). This is a tacit if not explicit admissions that the doors as a world-building tool serve a particular message based purpose. They allow Hamid to focus less on some details of our reality and more on others in service of making a particular political point about the world around us. This goes directly against the Nabokovian ethos of creating a new world, because Nabokov’s conception of writing is one of pure art — an expression of aesthetic mastery that might have political implications but transcends them in particularity. Hamid’s message, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of “ornamentation of the commonplace” Nabokov describes — a tool to serve a purpose.

In paragraph 9 of his essay, Nabokov brings up another trait of food writing: the ability to evoke an order of imagination deeper then the reader simply “relating” to a character or feeling a connection to one. Nabokov contrasts this lower level of imagination with a model of “impersonal imagination and artistic delight” where the reader maintains a level of “aloofness” and enjoys the “inner weave” of a masterpiece. While there are many respectable things about Hamid’s literary skill and “inner weave” in Exit West, any interpretation that is faithful to the true construction of the novel — explicitly outlined by the author — must utilize the first, lower order of imagination. Hamid does not attempt to hide that this is a novel about migration, explicitly saying this in countless interviews and going to great lengths throughout the novel to demonstrate it (I won’t go much further into examples in the novel here but suffice it to say the name of the novel alone is a strong indication). The ability to understand migration in a different way, to, as a non-migrant reader, attempt to understand migration at all is inherently an empathetic one because only through empathy can the experience provide political impetus. Put another way, ask yourself this; would the message of the novel be nearly as meaningful if you weren’t able to “see the world” through Nadia and/or Saeed’s eyes? Would the book be so impactful in uprooting common western notions of migrants if you couldn’t see the world through Nadia and/or Saeed’s eyes? Can you even coherently read the novel without seeing the world through Nadia and/or Saeed’s eyes? Hamid’s explicit political message forces the reader to use an empathetic level of imagination that falls exactly into the literary pattern Nabokov critiques.

Though distinct, both the points I made above draw from a common well: because Hamid’s message is trying to serve a political point, it undermines the work as an independent artistic endeavor. This is not to say that works that make a political point are all necessarily bad. Indeed, as the son of migrants, I happen to agree with the political point Hamid is making and think he makes this point effectively and eloquently. Many people enjoy fiction with a political message, and feel it helps them better understand the world. And even Charles Dickens himself, one of the author’s cited by Nabokov in his essay, was a strong believer in ethical and political fiction, using his works to draw attention to some of the social and economic problems of British urban life. But in Nabokov’s view, the effectiveness and eloquence of the political message behind a novel is distinct from the “goodness” of the work artistically, as demonstrated by the boy who cried wolf example he gives near the end of his essay. Nabokov reasons that the lesson of the boy who cried wolf story — the fact that the boy was eaten — is “quite incidental.” Instead, this is what he says is important: “Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature.” Hamid’s novel, while effective in making a point about migration, is an embrace of the “moral,” the “lesson” of the story, be it about migration literally or other concepts that interact with it, like, as many of my classmates have observed, western notions of “the other.” And as Nabokov points out, this comes at the cost of the novel as a work of art.

Exiting “Exit West”

There are many important takeaways that come from “Exit West.” The prevalence the novel has on modern day situations is immense. Understating what life is like for people in other countries is a necessary element of life. Empathy is built through understanding. I really enjoyed reading the book, largely because of its non-fiction components and real life scenarios. While initially I was unsure how I felt about the idea of “doors” due to their unrealistic powers, in the end I realized that they were needed to tell the story. At times the long sentences were difficult to consume, but as the book progressed it became easier. Unlike my summer reading book, I did not find a single typo which is impressive considering I am always on the hunt.

One thing I would have liked to see was more detail on the life of Saeed and Nadia after they separated. The last chapter jumped many years and left a lot out. It would have been fascinating to know what they were up to. I enjoyed seeing the progression of the relationship between Saeed and Nadia grow as the book progressed. I expected the book to end with them happily together, but it does not seem like that was the case. I was fascinated by the unrelated stories that were thrown into the book as well. Initially, I though the stories would connect with the events in the novel. I am unsure as to the purpose they served. Overall, “Exit West” is one of the most enjoyable books I have read during my time at OPRF.

A Title: Mr. Heidkamp Loves Titles That Brings in the Reader About Mutual Recognition

Titles can bring in readers just as much as they turn them away, and everybody has a title in a way. Something that people can see on the outside without having any knowledge of the inside. It could be your race, religion, appearance, accent, etc. Often times not understanding something or someone is the reason mutual recognition cannot be reached. However, despite everyone being different in their own sense, I think it is very possible to come to global recognition. Although a full comprehension of someone’s situation is impossible, I don’t think it is necessary for someone to recognize it through shared experiences.

In a sense, we are all migrators. Hamid writes, “We are all migrants through time” (209). People often judge people who have migrated, but it is that mindset that prevents global mutual recognition. Instead of worrying about what land they come from, worry about why they left. I think this book gives people a sympathetic perspective on people that come from significantly different backgrounds. It might give people the incentive to think twice about someone’s story before coming to a conclusion on your own.

Honestly, I don’t think global recognition will ever come. People at their nature are judgmental and greedy. With natural instincts like these, it is simply impossible to be able to empathize and think unbiased thoughts with everybody, especially when sometimes the horrible thoughts you might think about someone might be true. With this in mind, Global recognition is possible in a perfect world, but ours just simply imperfect.

Exit.Inc

While reading Exit West, there was some familiarity with the story. But, I could not pinpoint what it was. Until I read this, “…But approached the door, and drawing close she was struck by its darkness, its opacity, the way that it did not reveal what was on the other side, and also did not reflect what was on this side, and so felt equally like a beginning and an end” (103). Suddenly, I figured it out. The movie Monsters Inc., I couldn’t stop thinking about how the doors in the movie led to new places and new opportunities. I also compared the movie to when the militants from Nadia and Saeed’s country came to attack migrants in Vienna, I thought of the monsters trying to scare the kids. While this could be a pure conscience, I’m curious if Mohsin Hamid was inspired by the childhood classic. What are your thoughts?