Red in Beloved

A few chapters into Beloved, I realized that I associated the color red strongly with the novel. I couldn’t tell if it was because the cover is solid red or because of the large number of times red is mentioned in the book. But I knew that, for me, the novel just felt red.

Color in general is important to the book. This is especially clear in the character of Baby Suggs. Because white people (white being the absence of color) took everything from her, she craves color. In the time leading up to her death, she spends the days thinking about color. Both Stamp Paid and Sethe say they hope Baby Suggs never focused on the color red (page 213 for Stamp and 237 for Sethe).

I think that the color red represents the past and trauma. This became clear to me when Beloved opens Paul D’s “tobacco tin” heart (bringing back his memories), and he starts saying “red heart” over and over again (138). Later, when Stamp Paid is thinking about Baby Suggs and the history in 124, he finds a red hair ribbon (213). When these two characters think about the past and trauma, the color red comes into their lives.

The Prolonged Ending

During the final pages of Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, We learn that the two main characters, Saeed and Nadia, end their relationship. Saeed and Nadia met in their home country while there was a relative sense of peace. As their relationship progressed the world around them seemed to deteriorate as militants slowly took over their city. The state continued to worsen until Saeed and Nadia decided to leave the country together leaving behind everything in their old lives including their families. Saeed and Nadia travel the world looking for a place to call home using mysterious portals called “doors”.

Saeed and Nadia’s relationship is more than just any romantic relationship. Their relationship represents their old way of life. When they leave their home country the only thing they have from their old life is each other. After their time in their country ends their relationship begins to end because they grow further apart from each other. The more distant they get from their old home, the more distant they get from each other. This is why Saeed and Nadia’s relationship represents their old lives and it was destined to end once they left their home.

The Happy Sad Ending

Exit West follows the journey of two lovers, Nadia and Saeed, trying to escape their war-torn home country. While they do this, they go through many struggles as a couple. They go from being two heads of the same coin to struggling to be together, to completely going two separate ways. Most people would consider this to be a very said ending. Two people that seemed like they were meant for each other, only to end up leaving each other forever. However, this is ending is the exact opposite. It is in fact, a very happy ending for both of them.

Their relationship was a part of their old life. A life filled with struggles and war. Throughout the entire book, both characters have been trying to leave behind their old lives to peruse something better. That relationship that they had is a part of their old life. Once they can go their separate ways, that is them finally leaving the last part of their old lives to peruse something better in their new home.

Story split in two

The story of Exit West was one of the most interesting that I have read, as it was both an introduction into the genre of realistic fantasy and also that it seemed to so perfectly reflect life in ways that many other books fail to accomplish. In reading the last few pages of the book we learn that Nadia and Saeed drift apart and eventually become their own people and normally this would be considered a sad ending as the two lovers split apart and go separate ways but I think the way the book it written it is all about finding your own way in order to live a life that is best for you. This relates to the even bigger theme around the book which is migration and that is isn’t alway about the story but rather what you do with your life. As Nadia and Saeed separate they become more and more themselves discovering what it is they really want to do and how they want to live their lives, this relates to that topic of migration as while the story of the people is relevant it is less about that and more about the fact that as people they want to start a life where they are that is not home but rather that they are in a new place and would like for that to be a new life. While sometimes migration is about escaping the old it is also about starting new and why would you leave somewhere just to live the same life twice?

Two Stories in One

While reading the story, it came to my attention that in the text, Hamid develops two stories at the same time. He builds the story of immigrants’ journey from their old country to new, as well as a love story between two people that were seemingly perfect for each other. From the beginning, the reader follows the story of people trying to escape from their destroyed native land, while having to make difficult choices like leaving behind family. Saeed has to leave his family behind, and pursue a place that is best for him and his values. He and Nadia encounter multiple different living situations after leaving home. They keep searching until they find a place where they are comfortable. These are the usual events of a classic immigrant story.

In addition, from the beginning of the story, Hamid builds the relationship between Nadia and Saeed, to form a love story that seems to be like every other. The two stay with each other through multiple obstacles, while exploring themselves to find what they really want from life. However, this generic love story takes an unexpected turn when Nadia and Saeed begin to grow apart. Even after everything they had been through, the decided it was best to go their separate ways since they were looking for different things in a relationship. This turn transformed a generic love story into an intriguing and unfamiliar one.

The fact that Hamid was able to merge these two great stories into one, shows just how skilled he is in writing. This, combined with his unorthodox sentence style, keeps the reader engaged throughout the book. It also exemplifies the intricacies of being an immigrant, such as how much their life changes in such a short period of time.

What is Trust?

“I feel lost inside myself”

Trust holds much meaning. To feel trust towards someone is almost akin to feeling love. The movie “Trust” is an exemplary example of this comparison. To feel lost in life, but to then find someone who shares that same sense of hopelessness, a partner with whom you can put your trust in. Maria and Matthew are both lost; they don’t share the same predicament, only the feelings that result from them. When they find one another, it seems like they won’t work at first, like they are both too “broken” to balance each other out. However, exactly the opposite occurs. The two people that feel as if they are in an inescapable, sorrowful pit of despair find someone who feels the exact same way, making them feel less alone.

“People do strange things sometimes, when they feel hopeless”

The movie is one big trick. Once Maria and Matthew realize the mutual benefits they provide to one another, it is too late. They found each other at the right moment, but it wasn’t meant to last. From the very beginning, their outlooks on life differed too much, their values clash. They bonded over their shared anguish and desperation towards themselves and their lives, but that is all it was meant to be.

How do you know if you are compatible as lovers

Throughout the book Exit West, we see Nadia and Saeed grow together throughout their very long and tiring journey. They start at square one and from there slowly build their relationship as they continue forward. They face many hardships and many challenges along the way yet they always make sure that they stay together. Even though they stayed lovers throughout the whole journey in the end they still only ended up being friends. Their relationship was never built around love but rather the idea that they felt they had to stay together to survive. In the story, it was said, “But while fear was part of what kept them together for those first few months in Marin, more powerful than fear was the desire that each see the other find firmer footing before they let go, and thus in the end their relationship did in some senses come to resemble that of siblings, in that friendship was its strongest element, and unlike many passions, theirs managed to cool slowly, without curdling into its reverse, anger, except intermittently¨(204). The elements of the relationship were more of a best friend or sibling type of correlation and really never resembled lovers. What interests me is why they didn´t realize this earlier. From the start of the book, you could tell that some of their morals and beliefs were different and I think that is what really separates people, is the things that they believe in and have passion for. I think that this can have a big correlation to society now. So many people get divorced now because they realized that they are much better off as friends rather than lovers. But how do you realize this so early? It’s a tough thing to do definitely because it takes time to really get to know someone and realize if they are really the one for you. In my opinion, people now should start getting married at a later age and just date their lover for a longer amount of time until they know if they are a real true love or if they are just a really good friend in the end. This will help lower the insanely high divorce rate that we have currently. Nadia and Saeed are an example of this idea that you can be so close with someone that you love them, but not a lover way, rather more as a friendship way.

Couple Problems

While reading Exit West, I thought that this story was going to end with a simple happy ending. Where the two main characters fall in love despite all the problems going on and live happily ever after. But Hamid took a different route in writing this story. As a reader, it was sad but not truly surprising to see the falling out of Saeed and Nadia. Throughout the book, it started to become clear about the relationship problems both of the characters were having. As time went on, they just realized that they were not meant for each other.

The time where I knew the relationship was coming to an end was when they began to take time apart from each other. The sad truth about this is, time apart doesn’t mend a relationship, but only makes it worse. When a problem occurs, you don’t give the problem some space and hopefully when you come back it will be resolved. This is a big reason why there was a downfall between Nadia and Saeed. You can never truly fix any sort of problem with time and space. That’s one quick way to more problems.

Immigration Nation

The United States is a country with a checkered past with regards to immigration. From Columbus’s treatment of Native Americans to the border wall, this country has both been attacked by migrants and then attacked migrants. The world currently lives in a refugee crisis, where people seeking a peaceful place to live away from the persecution of their own countries have fled to parts of the world that don’t want them. In Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, this is taken to a new extreme when magical doors appear around the globe that transport migrants away from their home countries. This allows the migration process to speed up rapidly, and simultaneously the discrimination against them to rise.

Why does this discrimination exist? Why have immigrants turned themselves into natives, and now discriminate against others who are trying to do what they once did? It boils down to a few things: nativism and “the other”. In Exit West, this appears when some of the Londoners protest the influx of migrants in Chapter 7. This is an example of nativism, and its existence in the United States is oddly paradoxical. Since it is a nation made of mostly immigrants, how can nativism exist? Wouldn’t the nativism necessarily persecute those who are promoting it the most?

The idea of “the other” is also prevalent in both Exit West and the current refugee crisis. In the novel, the London government plans to set up a “halo city” for the migrants. By separating the migrants from “regular” Londoners, they inherently “otherize” them. “The other” also embodies why the nativist mob exists in the first place: they are fearful of the changing landscape of their city and what the migrants might bring with them (culture, violence…), resulting in acts of violence.

Nativism and “the other” are powerful forces acting on everybody. People are fearful of that which is different, so violence occurs. The solution is to find, through conversation, that the two sides are, in reality, not all that different.

Love and Migration

In Exit West, we meet two protagonists who are almost foils of each other. Saeed was raised on faith and is attached to his family – he learned how to pray from a young age and lived at home as long as he could. Nadia moved out of her family’s home at the first chance she got – which, as an unmarried woman in this country, is extremely risky. She wears a full-length robe not to practice her religion, but “so men don’t f–ck with me” (17).

“The following evening helicopters filled the sky … Saeed watched them with his parents from their balcony. Nadia watched them from her rooftop, alone.”

Page 35

Why Saeed would think he is compatible with a partner like Nadia is, at first, confusing. However, as their country gets more war-torn, it is clear that every civilian needs to seek refuge in another country. Coming from a man with such an honest background, in a country on the brink of civil war, Saeed’s first impressions of Nadia are simply: wow.

“He watched as she walked out to the student parking area and there, instead of covering her head with a black cloth, she donned a black motorcycle helmet … and rode off, disappearing with a controlled rumble into the gathering dusk.”

Page 5

Saeed is bewildered by Nadia’s confidence during times of extreme turmoil. And throughout Exit West, their journey across the globe escaping this turmoil brings them closer together as they depend on each other to find their footing in new situations — Saeed without his parents, and Nadia as an independent woman in a new country.

What does it mean to be a nation?

In Exit West Mohsin Hamid explores what it means to be a nation. The traditional way of defining a nation is a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory. In Exit West, nations seemingly disappear as migration to other parts of the world becomes unstoppable. Landmasses that used to have national identity see that identity rapidly disappear. “Their grandparents had been born on the strip of land that stretched from the mid-northern-Pacific to the mid-northern-atlantic.” Instead of saying America, or the United States, people describe the region in terms of its general geographical location, implying that the United States no longer exists in the form the Nation used to have. Its history, ideas, and culture evaporated as people from the entire world came to occupy the area. Though the existence of personal national identity still exists, as evidenced by Saeed’s longing to join the community in London that comes from his home country, nations within land masses no longer exist.

The Faces of Migration in Exit West

At first glance the magical doors in Exit West that transport those who enter to a new location seem to represent hope, freedom, and the breaking of boundaries. However, these portals are meant to represent the constant grapple that migrants are faced with when leaving their homeland. The hope for new opportunities contrasts with the fear and nostalgia of leaving home. Shown by the camps in Mykonos and the houses in London, upon arrival migrants struggle with alienation and the longing for connections in a place filled with people who appear different from themselves.  

The contradicting feelings on migration between Nadia and Saeed are representative of the yearning for new opportunities contrasted with the pain of leaving what is familiar and comfortable. In Nadia’s case, she embraces migration as a pathway to a new life whereas Saeed is more fearful about leaving his father behind in a potentially dangerous situation. Through Nadia and Saeed, Hamid portrays how migrants are swept up by seemingly mandatory migration both willingly and unwillingly. Hamid presents migration as an inevitable occurrence that should be embraced or at least accepted since it cannot be denied. 

Embracing the Change

Humans, as a general whole, do not like change. Change scares us, it threatens our sense of normalcy, and worst of all, its impending and inescapable nature causes the consistency in our lives to be forever fleeting. As a result, as humans, we cherish the stable, unchanging moments when we can find them. We avoid the uncomfortable and the unknown so when they come to our doorstep we run, hide, or fight. An example, highlighted within the novel Exit West, is the constant migration of people to other countries. When we see other people coming into the place we call our home we, as a general whole, run, hide, or fight. Those who choose the option to run will move themselves in an attempt to avoid the new flow of people. Many white people used this tactic in the form of white flight when people of color, who they saw as different and therefor a threat, were moving into their neighborhoods. Those who choose to hide ignore the reality of the situation in an attempt to preserve their sense of normalcy. People often use this tactic when they encounter those without a home. They would rather ignore them and pretend that they weren’t there than acknowledge them as fellow human beings. Lastly, we are left with the third response. Fight. Those who choose to do so fight the influx of new people, ideas, or situations in a futile attempt to resist change. Life, however, is in a constant state of evolution. Nothing remains unchanged and, as seen in Exit West, that change can be, and often is, positive. As a result of the doors, people from all over the world blended together and moved to new places, bringing their culture with them. Marin became a hub of different and new things all coming together to create “a great creative flowering in the region” (217). When we come together as humans and embrace the change and our new circumstances, instead of being destructive towards ourselves and one another, we can create beautiful new things and share our unique experiences with each other, as they did in Marin, creating a better, more accepting and united society.

The Beauty of Friendship

In Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Nadia and Saeed continue to drift apart as they begin to build their new lives after leaving their home country. Eventually, once in Marin County, CA, they make an official break from each other and go on to live their own separate lives. Although this initially seems like it is a sad ending because the main characters don’t end up together, I think it was the perfect way to end the book. Realistically, not all couples end up together. Usually in novels when this happens, either someone dies or the characters end up hating each other once the relationship has ended. However, I think that the beauty of Nadia and Saeed’s relationship is that they still cared for and supported each other after the split. Just because they had broken up didn’t mean that they had to disappear from each others lives. In fact, after they first split, Nadia and Saeed met to go on walks and would communicate through text and phone calls because they wanted to ensure the other was okay. After a little while they wouldn’t talk on the phone or meet up as much until all communication completely stopped, but it still took them time to fully break off. There was also no malice in this break because it happened naturally and they both had their new lives to live. They had both cared so much for the other while in their relationship, so even though it had changed from being romantic to more platonic, they were still friends that wanted the best for the other. When they meet up about half a century later in their birth country, Saeed and Nadia found easy conversation “…for they were former lovers, and they had not wounded each other so deeply as to have lost their ability to find a rhythm together…” (230). I think that their reunion shows that even though they didn’t end up together, they still appreciate each other and are friends above all else.

Everyone is a Migrant

Towards the end of Exit West, Hamid introduces a new character, an old woman from Palo Alto. The old woman has lived in the same house in Palo Alto her whole life and as she sees Palo Alto change over time, she starts to feel like an outsider. 

The community has changed so much that she doesn’t really leave her house. She feels like a migrant in the town she’s lived in her whole life. She’s seen new people move in and out of her neighborhood and doesn’t even bother trying to get to know them anymore. She loses her sense of belonging in the community. She compares this to the exclusion that comes with being a migrant. She has migrated through time.

I like how Hamid creates a connection between everyone. Migrants or not. It breaks down the traditional power dynamic that others migrants by pointing out something migrants and “natives” have in common.

We All Need Love Sometimes

In Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West, it follows the lives of Nadia and Saeed as they jump through magical doors in hopes to escape their homeland which has been overrun by a terrorist group. The author wrote both characters to defy the societal normals of their given gender. Nadia was written to be a strong, independent woman who sees no need for a man in her life despite her homeland crumbling to the ground. Saeed was written to be portrayed as a family-centered, religious, and traditional man. The relationship formed between these two characters was formed by, what it seemed like to the reader, love. The saying ‘opposites attract’ could be perfectly used to describe them because every reader wants there to be love. As the book continued it became more and more clear that the love between Nadia and Saeed was strictly platonic.

That’s not the say that there wasn’t a connection between Nadia and Saeed is easily found between others, but Nadia and Saeed realize they needed each other in order to escape their homeland, but they don’t satisfy each other’s needs as a romantic partner. Migrating, alone, male or female can be dangerous and extremely lonely. Nadia and Saeed met in a time of need of a companion, but not necessarily a spouse though. However, both knew if they followed what society wanted to see then they knew their chances of escaping into a safe country would be higher. When Nadia and Saeed come out of the first portal door “[Nadia] cradled him for he was still weak, and when they were strong enough they rose.” Both characters were weakened by the magical door and needed comfort in their lives. Comfort for not just the pain the portal caused, but the pain from leaving the world they knew, the guilt they felt for those left behind, and the fear of what lies ahead of them. Migration is unpredictable and most migrants prepare for the worst. Nadia and Saeed needed each other because they were each other’s one constant, which at the time for them may have seemed like romantic true love.

Once Nadia and Saeed realized they were both safe, the need to have a constant, reliable figure in their life began to lose its meaning. This realization made Nadia and Saeed explore what is best for them individually and as a couple. They began to live separate lives under the same roof, which is not what the readers classify as a “married” lifestyle. Their parting of ways was mutual and both even found love after. This is the love the readers want Nadia and Saeed to have, after all they went through mirgrating through countries that wanted to kill them. Both of them needed different types of love durning different times in their life even if it was not the type of love readers understand and know.

Those Who are Left Behind

As Nadia and Saeed embark on their next chapter of life together; leaving their home city it is not easy for them. In chapter 5 of the novel the finality of their decision is expressed, “when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” Saeed has to leave his father alone shortly after the recent passing of his fathers wife/love of his life/Saeed mom. Still Saeed migrates, in hopes for a better life for him and Nadia. Saeed knows he will not see his father for a very long time or possibly ever again. While migration means new opportunities for Nadia and his relationship to grow, that does not come without the expense of those who are left behind.

This leaving of behind is expressed later on in the story. At times it is extremely hard for Saeed to be away from his father and religion. Hence him finding solace in the religious home in London he discovers and with whom he could pray with. He even asks Nadia if they would move into that home, but she says no. Similarly, Nadia finds a group of women within their migrant home in London who include and respect Nadia in their meetings.

You’re Authentic Identity

In the novel, Exit West, a dilemma is brought up between the two lovers and they question if they are really in love or if they’ve just gotten used to each other’s presence. The topics of falling out of love and romantic vs. platonic relationships come into play and bring up more for discussion.

Falling out of Love

The topic of falling out of love is such a sensitive yet scary topic. Usually, when people first realize they fall out of love, they don’t allow themselves to accept they are falling out of love and continue to stay in denial. This forces them to stay in a relationship or situation where they are not getting what they need nor can they be their true selves. The person may think they are also sparing the other person’s feelings by prolonging the inevitable but essentially, in the end, it ends up even worse for both parties.

Platonic vs. Romantic Relationships

Relationships lie on a spectrum that can be anywhere from platonic to romantic. The idea of relationships that aren’t romantic tends to fly over people’s heads and they can’t fathom the fact that these two people love each other but aren’t in love with each other. Saed and Nadia have a platonic relationship although they may have shared some sensual experiences at the beginning they quickly realized they don’t actually love each other in that way.

An Unhappy Ending, or Just a Realistic One?

Throughout the novel, Nadia and Saeed’s relationship becomes increasingly more strained and increasingly more platonic than romantic. Towards the end of the novel, there is a clear shift when Nadia moves into her own room, and she and Saeed start to miss their meetings, eventually forgetting to miss the meetings altogether. “While the first shared weekend walk that they skipped was noticed sharply by them both, the second was not so much and the third almost not at all, and soon they were meeting only once a month or so, and several days would pass in between a message or call”(222). As time begins to pass, they both shift away from their dependence on one another. They form separate relationships and allow themselves to have new beginnings. Their relationship had been significant, and made a big impact on them both in major ways, but had just stopped serving them. It was no longer beneficial, for them to remain together. I recall when I was reading that I hoped there would be a moment where their love was rekindled, and they lived happily ever after in the company of one another. However, I soon realized that this was in no way shape, or form realistic, nor would it be fair to Nadia or Saeed. They had changed one another so drastically, they were no longer a fit. I believe that the end of the story, while almost neutral, is fitting for the narrative. When Nadia and Saeed meet up after so many years away from one another, there is a comforting vibe to the novel, especially when it stated ” they rose and embraced and parted and did not know, then, if that evening would ever come”(231). They are reminiscing on past promises and connect physically one final time as if to finally close the book on their relationship, which I think is the most realistic, optimistic ending possible.

Migrant Vignettes: A Global Story in Local Vernacular

In the textbook The Modern Middle East, historian and author James Gelvin describes the history of the Middle East as a “global story told in local vernacular” — which is to say, the region’s history of modernization, colonization, development, and role on the world stage is reflected similarly in other regions across the world. In Exit West, Mohsin Hamid takes a similar approach in telling the global story of immigration with local vernacular, focusing on the single story of Saeed and Nadia and their experiences of emigration (coincidentally, from a country implied to be in or near the Middle East) and resettlement and adaptation while still holding on to their past.

Yet, Hamid also interjects the book with vignettes into different regions of the world, from Australia to Dubai to the Mexican-American border. Some find love, like the elderly man from Amsterdam and the wrinkled man from Rio de Janeiro (173-176), while others find new life, like the suicidal accountant from London (129-131). Some find a cause to fight for, like the young woman in Vienna (109-111), while others use it as a means to act for cause they are willing to die for, like the second man who is implied to be a terrorist from Saeed and Nadia’s home country traveling to Vienna (66-58). Even those who don’t immigrate are faced with immigration all around them, such that they end up in a place very different from the one in which they started, like the old woman in Palo Alto (207-209). The characters of these vignettes are all unnamed, with the implication being that their experiences are representative of the varied yet similar experiences of all humans.

Hamid tells of the global possibilities of the effects of immigration through individual, localized stories written from individual perspectives. It seems that Hamid intends to say: everyone is affected by migration, and though each individual’s experiences are unique, they are all comparable.

NOTE: I took the “global story in local vernacular” quote by James Gelvin from his textbook, which is used in Mr Wolman’s Modern Middle East History course.