A Not-So-Complex Complex Novel

In the novel, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, after Nadia steps though the first door to get to the Greek Islands it is noted that,
“Nadia experienced a kind of extinguishing as she entered the backness and a grasping struggle as she fought to exit, and she felt cold and bruised and damp as she lay on the floor of the room at the other side, trembling and too spent at the first stand, and she thought, while she was strained to fill her lungs, that this dampness mist be her own sweat”(104). The explanation of Nadia’s experience while stepping though the door is very interesting, and seems almost intense and emotionally pact. The detail of filling her lungs and the cold/bruising feeling creates a sadness and rebirth feeling, like something was restricting her lungs fro getting any oxygen or she has just come from the depths of a dark ocean in a sea of unknown. This can also be inferred to be emotional and possibly physical characteristics and descriptions of what it’s like to migrate to a new country, being in a place you don’t understand or know, a possible feeling of helplessness and overwhelmingness. Also after Saeed comes though the door after Nadia it’s mentioned that, “she saw Saeed pivot back to the door, as though he wished maybe to reverse course and return through ut, and she stood beside him without speaking…”(105). This can also be inferred to be a representation of the fact that migrants sometimes don’t want to leave their home but have to, and when they do they may regret it.

Also in the novel, there is a short description of a man who is planning on killing himself, but before he does so he notices that his door has become an opening to another place in the world, but ignores it. However, right before he is about to do anything he wants to see what could possibly be on the other side of the door and, “Later his daughter and his best friend would receive via phones a photo of him, on a seaside… and a message that said he would not be returning…”(111). The explanation of this man using the door to escape a life that only brought him disappointment and bring happiness into his life shows the contrasts between the primary story, using these doors to escape war and seek refuge, and this man’s story, using the door to go somewhere on vacation or somewhere tropical. This contrast illustrates the privilege that people have in this story and how it is utilized for themselves and their well-being. Finally, when a very pale woman from Australia is explained to be living in a home in a wealthy neighborhood that has been gentrified, it’s explained that in her side table she has “passports, checkbooks, receipts, coins, keys, a pair of handcuffs, and a few paper-wrapped sticks of unchewed chewing gum” (8). Specifically the mention of the handcuffs in this woman’s side table illustrates the power she has to be able to control when she or someone is constrained shows and contrasts later when the man coming out of the closet when he has little control of where he is.

Conscious of the Past

One of the most distinct motifs I picked up on when first reading Exit West were mentions of the past, usually meant to highlight a change that had taken place within the world of the story. Most of those changes are rather negative; lines like “The cinema they remembered so fondly had been replaced by a shopping arcade for computers and electronic peripherals,” “The Mars it showed was more detailed as well, though it was of course a Mars from another moment, a bygone Mars,” and “The family that used to run the place, after arriving in the city following the Second World War, and flourishing there for three generations, had recently sold up and emigrated to Canada,” all denote the loss of something (13, 16, 23). Sometimes the changed versions, the ones that had something missing, were more modern, which the rise of technology and increase in light pollution from the first two lines show.

Modernity is also a sort of motif in the novel, since Hamid often comments on aspects of modern city life within the novel: phone usage, drugs, commuting, emailing, going to Chinese restaurants, etc. While this was intended to push back against the Western perception of cities in underdeveloped nations, it also solidifies the book’s place in a contemporary era. But that only makes the parts where the past is mentioned stand out more.

When thinking over the purpose of these continual references to the past, I remember the quote from the very start of the book that details how “…one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put to a stop our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does” (4). I believe these references enhance the spontaneity of life and the finality of sudden changes that the quote talks about: the cinema is a cinema until it’s remodeled, and the family will run the same Chinese restaurant until they move away. There have been irreversible changes made before, and they will continue to occur, especially as Saeed and Nadia’s cities begin to fall to the militants, which is a very severe example of change, but nevertheless change is something we all expereience. We all have a past, things have changed for all of us, this will continue to be so; these ideas add to the novel’s focus on transience and the human experience.

Stuck in the Honeymoon Phase

Every relationship has their phases, their ups and downs. This could be in family relationships, friendships and in Nadia and Saeed’s case, romantic relationships. Most couples go through the same stages in their relationships, just the time going through each stage may vary. The ‘Honeymoon phase” takes place at the beginning of a relationship or even pre-relationship. This phase is exciting and new, you are getting to know your partner, you are doing new things together and it is basically impossible to see their flaws. But when the honeymoon stage comes to an end this is where many romantic relationships come to an end. In this Realistic stage, individuals in the relationship start to see the flaws in their partner ,making it easier to disagree and agree with them. Seeing the other person as a whole person outside of said relationship causes a detachment. This detachment leads to a lack of effort and communication, leading to an end in a relationship.

Off the bat Exit West introduces us to a brand new relationship, we get a good look into the honeymoon phase between Nadia and Saeed. From going out to eat all the time, to experimenting sexually and with drugs, they are obsessed with each other. When they moved in together they continued in this phase, they were feeling all love even with a war happening right outside their window. Abruptly things change once Nadia and Saeed decide to leave their country. It is almost as if passing through that door to Mykonos, was like passing through the honeymoon phase into a realistic phase. When they passed through that door, the differences that they had not seen in each other were clear and their flaws were right there, out in the open. What makes Nadia and Saeed’s relationship different is, it can not come to an end.

Stressful Circumstances

As many know stress can have many adverse effects on relationships, but it can also bring people closer. Mohsin Hamid does a great job illustrating how damaging stress can be on a relationship, but also how stressful circumstances can strengthen a relationship. Nadia and Saeed start off extremely passionate, always wanting to be together and meeting each other, “Nadia and Saeed began to meet during the day, typically for lunch…Saeed was certain he was in love. Nadia was not certain what exactly she was feeling, but she was certain it had force” (53-54). They are always together, enjoying each other’s company, and texting. As the story progresses we see Nadia and Saeed’s passion begin to fade seemingly as the result of the extreme circumstances they are forced into. After leaving home, going to Mykonos, and then traveling to London we begin to see Saeed and Nadia having disagreements and arguing, “She emerged from the bathroom wrapped in her towel..he said, looking at her, ‘you can’t stand here like that.’ ‘Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.’ … they sep on the slender single bed together without speaking, without touching, or without touching more than the cramped space demanded, for this one night not unlike a couple that was long and unhappily married” (126-127). Both haven’t been comfortable for months, being in new places and in other people’s homes. Saeed is understandably worried because of this and both of their inability to relax has seemed to cause them to become irritable. Hamid’s depiction of the effect of the stress of migration on their relationship draws parallels between the effects of migration on families as well.

The way many people view migrants today is negative. We fail to see things from their point of view and consider the fact that they may have and probably don’t want to leave their home country. We fail to see the many adverse effects migration has on the people forced to do it. We don’t seem to understand that people are leaving out of necessity and not choice. They are forced to separate from their families and friends and yet many people make rude demeaning comments and hateful attacks against migrants. I think one of the main purposes of Hamid’s novel is to make a comment on the poor treatment of migrants and give people the ability to see their perspectives and allow us to understand the reality of many migrants’ situations.

The More Years The Less Love

The idea that love sometimes fades over years is a sad realization. We see a huge parallel between love fading through Saeed’s parent’s marriage and Saeed’s and Nadia’s own relationship. Both relationships decide to wait to have sex until marriage, and in his parent’s relationships, “Saeed’s mother found it more uncomfortable”(13). When Saeed told Nadia he wanted to wait until marriage she responded by saying “Are you F****** joking”(55). Then after processing this she said, “It’s okay. We can see”(56). In both relationships, the women are way more eager and the men feel a lot of pride in waiting. After Saeed’s parents get married their marriage was full of passion. They were basically obsessed with each other and so were Saeed and Nadia. But, as time passed so did their love. “After Saeed was born, the frequency with which his parents had sex dipped notably, and it continued to decline going forward”(14). Over time, as life went on and got more complicated their love decreased. As Nadia and Saeed were going through all of the doors there love notably declined. “She smiled and moved to kiss him, and while her lips did touch his, his did not much respond”(125). In both relationships, the women are the ones constantly trying to keep the love alive and the men are the ones who are giving up and choosing not to care anymore. After Saeed’s mother passes away Saeed’s father is a mess and super upset. I am sure he wishes that he appreciated her a little more when she was alive. Knowing the huge parallel between the relationships, I would hate to see Saeed regret not appreciating Nadia more too while she is alive…

Do Nadia and Saeed share true love?

This is an idea that develops throughout the story, the first encounter they have is after their class when Saeed asks Nadia to have a coffee with him in the cafeteria and she rejects him, he tries his luck again another day and this time she agrees, they find out multiple things about each other like why Nadia wears the black robe or that she doesn’t pray and lives alone which is uncommon for a young woman. She learns that Saeed still lives with both his parents and usually prays with his father while his mother prays alone at home. Slowly and naturally they grow closer and see each other more often, and it seems like they both share an attraction for each other. So much so that Nadia accepted a promise from Saeed’s father to stay with him and protect him until he was safe as they plan to leave their unnamed city to get somewhere safer through the magical doors.

Throughout their time in Greece, they get along well and again grow together emotionally, they do not fight or really argue and don’t show any signs of losing feelings for each other. Saeed is very protective of Nadia as well. The tension builds when they arrive at the palace in London, Saeed becomes worried about their safety and lashes out at Nadia, most notably when she takes her time in the shower and Saeed yells at her for taking so long in a residence that doesn’t even belong to them, Nadia doesn’t understand his frustration but also doesn’t want to start an argument with Saeed so she lets it go, she then finishes up in the bathroom and exits wearing just a bathrobe which upsets Saeed again, “you can’t just wear that” he says to which this time Nadia responds saying that she can wear what she wants, again she does not want to start an argument with Saeed but cannot help herself as she feels the need to stand up for herself. That night they sleep in the only bed together but don’t talk, touch, or even think of each other.

When they wake up they agree that they need some time apart o get some alone time so even though it is dangerous to be out alone they spend the day apart and then come back together again at night, they quickly enjoy their time together more at night when they don’t see each other all day. They have a nice moment where they promise not to talk to each other in a nasty way anymore.

Now, this brings me to my question, are Nadia and Saeed getting frustrated or tired of each other? And are they only still together because of Nadia’s promise to Saeed’s dad? Or is there arguing and frustration with each other a normal part of a relationship that is still being worked on, and once they work through it (if they do) will their true love shine through, or was it never there?