“So Men Don’t F–k With Me”

In Exit West, Nadia is definitely her own person. She moves out from her parents while unmarried, which is culturally abnormal for her. From here, it could be inferred that the role of women in Exit West could be a traditional one. The robe is “conservative and virtually all concealing” (16). Saeed thinks it to be related to Nadia’s faith. After he inquires, “If you don’t pray, why do you wear it?” (16), Nadia responds with the brusque “So men don’t f–k with me” (17).

This is one of my favorite lines in the entire book. It is made even more important through Hamid’s commitment to long, flowing prose. I know this is a character speaking, and not Hamid’s narration, but the contrast is still there. Besides, Hamid could have written the whole novel with punchy little sentences like these. Then, maybe, this line would not be more memorable. I digress. All the same, what really makes this statement work is all the meaning packed into Nadia’s words.

When Nadia expresses the desire to be liberated from male advances, it ties into the patriarchy. There is a big question, though: is she wearing this robe as someone who feels bound by such ideals, or as someone who is independent but does not want any questions asked therein? The argument for the former hinges on the idea that such a robe looks like a patriarchal construction. It swallows Nadia whole and could make her look meek and submissive. Or it may not. We know Nadia is a strong, independent woman, so perhaps she is wearing this robe to avoid all the prodding that would come with her outwardly breaking norms by, say, wearing skinny jeans and a crop-top. She is merely playing a role, does not want anything to do with anyone, and has to get on with being her own self.

No Need, No love

People strengthen bonds from going through experiences together. In Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Nadia and Saeed relationship blossoms through every treacherous obstacle they are forced to step over. The two are faced to emigrate to several new countries, leave family behind, and escape the dangerous at home. Nadia and Saeed having gone through this have a stronger connection than if they had stayed at home forever. The comfort of having someone to go through these tolling events can keep someone going. Nadia and Saeed’s connection is romantic. The reader watches the connection develop into a more emotional going farther and farther from surface level. Since these two had to grow this connection over dire times they only know how to connect at dire times. It isn’t until they arrive in Marin where Nadia realizes that she doesn’t know how to further connection and there is no spark.

In Marin, Nadia and Saeed weren’t forced to hide and run as they had to in the past. Instead they joined the community with others and started being apart of something. Nadia got a job and started returning to what is seen as a “normal life”, it is then when she realizes she doesn’t need the comfort of having Saeed anymore. She leaves the home they have and starts sleeping in the vacant room at her workplace. Saeed and Nadia still have love for each other, just the spark and need for each other is missing because they don’t need each other anymore. It seems that when they had so much going on they had this spark that kept them together, but when they have security in themselves its not there and it’s what causes Nadia to leave. Hamid writes “they grew less worried of each other”(223), by saying this he communicates that the situation isn’t as severe but also they have grown apart.

I do still believe that Nadia and Saeed still love each other, however are not in love with each other. When they meet again, they bring up their past relationship and mention the sexual aspect. I do believe that they still have this attachment to each other however they are too apart. For Nadia to even correct him and say they “were having sex”(230) proves that the care is still there. They may have lost the spark that was so powerful for a heavy period of their life, but they definitely will always remember the time they spent together.

Security Blanket

The novel Exit West follows Saeed and Nadia, a young couple living in a country that is becoming more war-torn by the day. They then leave their country through magical doors, eventually ending up in Marin County, California. From the beginning of the story, it was evident that Saeed and Nadia would not have a normal relationship, but the lack of normalcy throughout the story allows for a deeper understanding of what it really means to be in a relationship.

As the story moves forward, Saeed and Nadia’s relationship blossoms, and after a certain amount of time, they are all the other has. Throughout the novel, we as readers are taken on the journey with Saeed and Nadia, and the narrative perspective, as well as the amount of descriptive detail, really puts you into the perspective of Saeed and Nadia. We see their arguments, their good moments, as well as aspects of their relationship that occur individually. Due to the nature of their country as well as their lives at the beginning of the story, the couple became a sense of security for each other, the one consistent thing in an ever-changing world. It is only when Saeed and Nadia individually develop their own rhythm that we see the couple’s dynamic change.

Due to their new jobs and meeting of new people, it is evident that Saeed and Nadia do not explicitly need each other anymore. Still, in a long-term relationship such as theirs, love and care can still be present even when other aspects of the relationship are not. Sometimes things do not work out, but dwelling on the past takes up space in the future. Exit West teaches us about endings in a way, and that oftentimes what we may see as the end may not be so. For example, at the end of the story, Saeed and Nadia reunited after decades, and after time apart we see the love and care is still present, “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).

The Love from Migration

The official definition of migration is movement from one part of something to another. Human migration is the permanent change of residence by an individual or group. Throughout Exit West, Hamid explores the idea of migration and how it takes effect on the different characters in the novel. Migration in today’s world is a challenge unlike any other, leaving the comfort of your home country to find serenity and safety. Nadia and Saeed’s first migration they experienced was leaving their home and their father to Mykonos. The difference between Hamid’s idea of migration and the real world’s migration is that Hamid introduces the idea of these black doors that take a person from point A to point B within seconds. 

The toll migrating on Nadia and Saeed is unreal, each making promises to one another to protect each other and themselves. With that being said, they created a bond, a platonic love for one another. Disguising this love as romantic, Nadia and Saeed had to deal with the heaviness of moving from one part of the world to another area. Nadia and Saeed moved from different areas and adjusted their ways of life each and every time, dropping some true part of their personality for the sake of the other. The ultimate migration came at the end of the novel, when Nadia and Saeed realized it was time for themselves to relocate to cooperate with their happiness. The love they had for one another allowed for them to separate, to know and acknowledge each other for the rest of time if it just so happens. 

Never-ending Sentences

When most of us think of a sentence, we think of it as a simple subject and a predicate. However, in Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, some sentences take on a life of their own, meandering for whole paragraphs at times. In some books, this could lead to the reader being confused and feeling removed from the story. However, for Hamid, they are instead an opportunity to convey complex emotions and situations, making the reader feel even more present in the narrative.

One example of a diffusive but effective sentence occurs on page 163 when tension between migrants and nativists is rising and then falling as Saeed and Nadia are in London. Of the two full paragraphs on the page, the first describes the rumors of violence against migrants and the many different versions of events swirling around as the soldiers advance. That paragraph is actually only one sentence, though it doesn’t feel that to the reader. It’s not meant to actually convey any events that happened as not even the characters in the story have reliable information, it is simply there to convey the sense of uncertainty and fear present in the house of migrants.

Alternatively, the next paragraph on that page contains a multitude of different sentence lengths, some short and basic, some long, as the tension lessens. This paragraph isn’t about wild rumors of murdered children circling through the migrants, but the actual business of survival. The varied sentence structure gives the reader a feeling of normalcy after the panic of the last paragraph while still maintaining the sense of conflict generated previously. While children are no longer being murdered, the migrants are still running out of food.

These sentences together form a small but powerful segment of the story and bring the reader closer to the narrative rather than confusing them and Hamid uses this strategy throughout the novel. The long sentences serve to represent nerve-wracking moments or difficult decisions or the many possibilities that characters consider and they all help establish tone for the novel.

Time can’t Heal Love

In his novel, Exit West, author Mohsin Hamid asserts love cannot be fixed by time or excitement. This is seen through Saeed and Nadia’s relationship throughout the story, and is emphasized as their relationship struggles in London and falls apart in Marin.

When Nadia and Saeed are in the early stages of their relationship, they are extremely emotional with each other, and after Saeed asked Nadia to marry him very early in the relationship, Nadia “felt great tenderness well up in her for him at that moment”(65). However, Nadia and Saeed’s relationship soon starts to deteriorate after their migration to London, and soon after they disagreed where to stay, Nadia “brought her face close to his that night, close enough to tickle his lips with her breathing, [but] he was unable to muster the enthusiasm to bridge the tiny distance it would have taken to kiss”(153). Saeed and Nadia’s relationship has fallen to the point where when they once would have felt intimate, they no longer have those feelings, and Saeed chooses to not kiss Nadia even though he easily could. This is the first sign of the deterioration of their relationship.

It becomes clear Saeed and Nadia start to completely lose these feelings after they move to Marin in an attempt to rekindle their old love, but fail miserably. Soon after moving, Nadia stands at the door with her bags packed, and Saeed and Nadia “did not embrace or kiss then, they stood facing each other at the threshold of the shanty that had been theirs, and they did not shake hands either, they looked each at the other, for a long, long time, any gesture seeming inadequate”(215). All feelings of love and intimacy between them had dissipated, and now they seem like strangers to one another.

Through Saeed and Nadia’s relationship, Hamid is asserting that love cannot be healed solely by time or change, and this is seen as their love continues to fail despite their effort and patience with it, moving from city to city and giving it over a year in an attempt to find feelings again. Hamid does this through his long sentence structure when describing their feelings, and through his use of asyndeton, using almost 20 commas in the sentence on page 215 where Saeed and Nadia finally leave each other. These literary devices strengthen the effect of his writing, dramatizing and emphasizing the harsh words between Saeed and Nadia, and leave the reader with a feeling of despair as their love depressingly fails.

Unfinished love

Saeed and Nadia are a very interesting couple. Nadia straight off the bat is powerful and dominant. She even rides a motorcycle. Saeed happens to be a little more dependant on his parents and in most western traditional relationships would be considered unmanly.

Their love is put to the test in “Out West” by being put in a war setting where they must rely on each other for survival and comfort. We as the reader wait patiently as their conflicts unroll for the moment that they either get married or make love or anything special. But instead, we get nothing. I am no critic but I felt a little disappointed in the last few pages (final chapter) because I had waited for something to come from this relationship. They had suffered through death and all the emotions that make someone vulnerable, yet Nadia wasn’t satisfied and felt that their love was weakening by the day. In the reader’s eyes, the two main characters leave each other in a peaceful but meaningless way. It’s peaceful because they are at peace with one another and with their lives but their relationship had amounted to nothing. It’s hard to tell what the central theme of this story was but my best guess would revolve around their relationship. So the ending only let me and I’m sure many others with its open for interpretation ending.

Ending a Story

As I closed the book on Friday afternoon, I felt a profound sense of melancholy. Hamid’s articulation of the complexity of human relationships is beautifully done, and left me feeling nostalgic about relationships in my own life where the passage of time caused irreversable change. The clever and subtle hints of a divide between Saeed and Nadia are placed carefully long before their physical separation occurs, and the truth and humanity in those hints is what makes Hamid such a great writer. Even though that truth caused me to revisit regrets of a past life, I was not worse off for the opportunity to reflect. It must be said, however, that the change that comes with the inexorable passage of time is not always something to fear or to cry over.

When Nadia walks by the musicians in the migrant camp, she says that people were calling this time the “new jazz age.” The magic doors of the new world of Exit West have thrown people from all around together, and Nadia witnesses the creation of new and exciting music as a result. Although the circumstances of the substantial migration in Hamid’s novel are very different to the forced migration of African-Americans during the Atlantic Slave Trade, who of course created the blues, out of which came swing, bebop, hard bop, and post bop (jazz is a problematic word that generalizes this music but that is a separate issue), the beauty and innovation within the music is what connects the past with the future that Hamid has created. This scene in particular gave me hope for the future, however uncertain that future may be. The inevitability of change as time passes, in this case, is positive and wonderful to behold to both Nadia and the reader.

Whenever a novel or film concludes with a distinctly happy result for the protagonist/main character/Matt Damon I am reminded that the great escape from real life is over. It doesn’t matter that I know that Frodo and Sam will succeed, I will still read with bated breath as they make their final ascent to Mount Doom, and put the book down with a smile on my face after Wormtongue slays Saruman (putting off the sadness that is bound to engulf me when Frodo leaves Middle-Earth). Days after finishing Exit West, though, the conversation between Saeed and Nadia in their home city still pervades my thoughts. Navigating human relationships, in a world of chaos, is hard, and Hamid illustrates this constant struggle in a way that makes me consider the choices I have made and will make in my own life.

Being a human being is complicated, and while there are certainly times when I would rather watch Daniel Craig shoot bad guys with his Aston Martin than reflect upon my existence, I’m grateful that I read this novel.