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.

2 thoughts on “Migrant Vignettes: A Global Story in Local Vernacular

  1. Maggie B.

    I enjoyed reading about your suggestions on the meaning of the shorter stories and the importance relative to a theme in the book. I agree that the vignettes could be a reference to humans’ varying points of view that all undergo change relative to immigration. And I think maybe Hamid also stresses the idea of how everyone has experiences of their own individual journeys that can be vastly different from one another. I would say that the book to me kind of drew on acknowledging the different aspects in the individual experiences, but still understanding unifying effects that many experiences like death or drifting from a past with the process of change.

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  2. Michael D.

    I agree with your idea on what Hamid is trying to say, but I disagree with his sentiment. Peoples’ experiences with migration are inherently different because they are experienced by different people coming from and going to different countries with different goals in mind. Everyone is affected, but experiences cannot be compared against each other because of the inherent differences.

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