Exit West and the Fear of the Unknown

“Perhaps…they had understood that the denial of coexistence would have required one party to cease to exist, and the extinguishing party too would have been transformed in the process”(Hamid 166). This sentence is part of a passage from Chapter 8 of Exit West that had a significant impact on me because of how pertinent it is to the current global tension around immigration. The debate over refugees and immigrants is especially polarizing in the United States right now, and it’s hard for members of either side to see the perspective of the other. But Hamid offers an insight into the minds of both through the novel’s omniscient point of view.

Of course, since the novel is centered around two refugees (Saeed and Nadia), there is more of their perspective than anyone else’s. However, in this particular passage, as well as (sporadically) throughout the whole book, Hamid shows the thought process of their opponents, and I thought it was really interesting to see how he thought they might approach the situation.

In the novel, the “nativists” ultimately give up on their plans to ambush and massacre the refugees, and Hamid determines that “they did not have it in them to…slaughter the migrants”(166). As much as they–and real-life nativists–may advocate for the eradication of immigrants, it takes quite a lot to actually do that, and at the end of the day most people do not actually want that to happen. In truth, they are simply afraid of the change that immigrants represent, so they come up with extreme ways to prevent that change. But in Exit West, Hamid imagines a future where those people come to terms with the situation and accept it for what it is, as hard as that may be, and I hope that this future is a plausible one for the world we live in. As Hamid says, “Courage is demanded not to attack when afraid”(166), and I would like to believe that more people have that courage in them than is apparent right now.

A Story in Tweets: The New Serial Novel

When I first read “Black Box” by Jennifer Egan, the thing that caught me the most off-guard was not the language or the rules of the world, but rather the story’s structure. I didn’t understand the way it was formatted; all of the individual boxes and almost fragmented sentences were not what I was used to when it came to short stories. Out of curiosity, I looked it up, and I found that the strange organization came from the fact that the story was originally written through a series of tweets from the author.

The whole thing made a lot more sense when I thought of it coming out in that context. Using Twitter to tell this story actually fits the plot very well, considering that it was told from the point of view of the “beauty’s” mental information log, which has a similar condensed style to a tweet. Although we had to read the story as the New Yorker published it, I could imagine reading it in real time, feeling like you were getting updates from the woman’s black box itself.

Aside from its application to the actual story, I thought the method Egan used was interesting because it reminded me of old serial novels. Many years ago, authors used to publish their stories in fragments in magazines or newspapers, almost like episodes of a TV show. It was a popular technique among science fiction writers, but it was also used by famed authors like Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway. The appeal back then was that it was more profitable for the authors than exclusively selling full novels, but it also allowed their stories to reach a wider audience, seeing as more people could afford to buy magazines than books.

While tweeting out “Black Box” may not have been more profitable for Egan, it did have the same effect as publishing serials did for the authors of the past in that it went out to one of the widest audiences in the world: social media. A vast majority of the world, regardless of social or economic status, participates in social media to some extent, and using it in this way allowed Egan to reach so many more people than she would have if she had published it in book form. And who knows, maybe this will lead to Twitter stories becoming the 21st-century form of serialization–though I’m not sure if I’d be willing to read a Harry Potter novel 280 characters at a time.