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.

Existentialism, “The Stand”, and Reading

All throughout our discussions of existentialism I’ve also been reading The Stand by Stephen King. The premise for this particular novel is quite indicative of our world’s absurdity: a malfunction at a government research facility caused a deadly virus to be released, and resulted in most of the US population being wiped out. The real story, though, is in the groups of people who come together after the dust settles.

King’s skill in creating worlds and creating characters is unmatched. I feel as though just by reading three quarters of this book I’ve lived the lives of hundreds of people. In this reading, I have found that being detached, and accepting the absurdity of the world that King has created, has made the reading experience very powerful and fun. More fun, certainly, than if I had tried to justify or derive meaning from the absurdity of the world. Allowing myself to just exist in the world, was much more enlightening and gratifying.

A further connection to The Stranger I’ve found in The Stand is the utter prominence of physical and sexual desires. This becomes a more pervasive motif during Part 2 of The Stranger, but in King’s novel it is fairly constant. This focus on sex as an aspect of human nature, rather than love, I feel, is another part of existentialism that Camus touches on, but could be explored further. I would be interested to know whether King’s use of sexual and physical desires, rather than love stories, had any connection to his beliefs about existentialism.

Mersault Costanza

A story about nothing? Well, not really. He just made me think of George when he complained that there was only “one roller towel” to last all day in the bathroom where he works (25). In truth, there is complexity and oddity to be found in all of Mersault’s relationships, particularly with Salamano, his neighbor.

The conversation that Mersault has with Salamano after Salamano loses his dog was the most compelling moment of the story for me, where I felt most immersed in this world with human beings. For much of the story preceding that I had difficulty sensing any strong feeling from the narrator. Even though his apathy towards life is truly human and this should not be dismissed as a boring story due to the boring nature of the world, this was the first point where I really felt lost in the world of The Stranger.

“When she died he had been very lonely. So he asked a shop buddy for a dog and he’d gotten this one very young…they had grown old together”(44-45). Mersault yawns after this, while I’m stricken with grief for this man’s loss, and he says that he is “sorry about what happened,” and I still felt after that that even though I had been profoundly affected by the old man’s story, Mersault was not affected at all, and through that, his character continues to take shape. Perhaps it is not that the story is about nothing, but that the narrator is not interested in finding meaning within his life, and is content to continue living a life of no substance.