The Supernatural in Beloved and Exit West

When first reading Exit West, I assumed it was a futuristic form of historical fiction, a realistic story about two people during a time of war.  But when they first walked through the door, I thought had misunderstood or the story skipped forward in time. I thought it to be a mistake by Hamid to introduce such a syfy like portal in this very probable world, that he was confusing the reader more than he should.

In Beloved, I was even more sure that I was reading historical fiction.  A book about life after slavery? For sure. But then Paul D scared a ghost out of the house, Sethe was choked my mysterious fingers, and Beloved appeared and disappeared.

Although initially strange, I think that these supernatural aspects were necessary.  In Exit West, the magical doors transcend all barriers and create an accelerated migration, that gives Hamid an opportunity provide commentary about these topics.  In Beloved, the ghost forces Sethe to relive trauma that slavery has brought upon her, and gives Morrison a chance to give the reader a deeper understanding about living after slavery.  In both books, they are very central elements, and introduce ways to bring out ideas that wouldn’t have been articulated in a nonfiction book.

Can these books, especially Beloved, still be considered historical fiction?

Beloved and Exit West

After letting both books sink in for a while, a similarity between the two works really started to make sense. Both works are set in real-world places and real-world times with real-world problems, Exit West is set in what seems to be civil-war ridden Syria and Beloved is set in the brutal time period of American slavery. However, they both have one element that distracts from the real world and adds a deeper level of meaning, making the story truly powerful.

The magical doors in Hamid’s novel and the reborn baby in Beloved serve add much more to the story than just a bit of spice and fantasy. Beloved serves as a metaphorical representation of the collective memory of slavery, coming back long after its abolition to haunt its victims and their loved ones, and the doors play with the idea of an immigration crisis to combat the idea of restricted immigration laws.

I thought it was very interesting to see how effective placing an out-of-the-ordinary element in a very serious book could be in creating advanced statement about the real world and how it makes the book a work of art and not just a fun page-turner.

Slightly Different Ways to Read Exit West’s Title, Exit West

While Exit West‘s nebulous title has been touched on during class, I want to catalog a few interpretations I can think of.

Exit west, like a highway

It’s the most familiar language and is what people I’ve asked commonly guess the title means. It certainly sounds like a highway sign, using every word efficiently. This interpretation also supports Saeed and Nadia’s traveled based story by being an abbreviate highway sign. My initial choice.

Exit West, referencing perspectives

This title tells the reader to abandon western expectation for the story. It follows Exit West‘s habit of subverting western stereotypes about the middle east. Although it isn’t fair to say these stereotypes are directed towards the middle eastern due to Saeed and Nadia’s hometown never receiving a name. Which is also another way Hamid removes readers from their preconceived notions and biases. Anyways this title reflects the books empathy generating content. Also thanks to whoever first said this one from 1st period.

Exit West, like manifest destiny

Another one created by the wonderful students of period 1. An inversion of western expansion in the USA’s history with Saeed and Nadia’s destiny interfering with american’s destiny. I enjoy this one almost entirely due to illogical logical extent of this title. Particularly the idea of Nadia and Saeed invading the United States. Of course a more reasonable explanation would be an exaggerated description of migrants gravitating towards better lives, which maybe be in America, but that’s not nearly as fun.

Saeed’s Perspective on American Nativeness in Exit West and the Current World

“Many others considered themselves natives to this country…It seemed to Saeed that the people who advocated this position most strongly, who claimed the rights of nativeness most forcefully, tended to be drawn from the ranks of those with light skin who looked most like the natives of Britain” (Hamid 197-198).

During this section of the chapter, Saeed begins talking about the few natives in Marin, and then transitions to compare the people in America considering themselves natives to the people in Britain who feared their land being overtaken by migrants.

This passage reminded me of the mindset of many Americans today when it comes to immigration. They are angered and feel as if they are being invaded. It’s interesting to see how Hamid has imputed the real point of views of many Americans when it comes to being considered native or not while also giving the reader insight to Saeed’s opinion on the matter.

One more noticeable aspect of this passage is Hamid’s word choice. He details that the people who claim the rights of nativeness most forcefully are those with “light skin”. This part was important because it one again connects to the world we are living in today. Native Americans were truly the natives/first people here but now many white people are the first to claim nativeness to this land, even though it was not originally theirs.

End of Exit West?

Nadia returned to her hometown after living half a life without Saeed. She learned that he was nearby and planned to meet, being separate from him for 50 years.

I find this interesting because this makes me question Saeed’s perspective and life. Did he return home at the same time as Nadia? Is it a coincidence?

Saeed was more reluctant to the idea of leaving his home after learning that his father would stay behind. His father staying for the reason that he felt closer to his wife in their hometown. The reader is presented with the idea that Saeed may have moved back. The reason could be to feel closer to his past loved ones. Does Saeed return to feel the presence of his father? Did he settle there to permanently feel closer to his family?

This being a stretch but it still raises a question in my head. Could Saeed have moved back for another reason except his loved ones? Did he want to feel the presence or feeling of his past relationship with Nadia? They met in this city, in the middle of a war. Their relationship flourished here, and never faltered despite having many challenges in this city. I believe he has moved on but will continue to love Nadia as a member of his family but I find it interesting to think about his motives to moving back.

Vignettes, Questions, Themes, and Life

To begin with, I think the use of the vignettes throughout the book were really neat. I didn’t really value, or understand, them until I finished the book and reflected on what I read. The first vignette, about the lady in Australia, actually threw me off. I thought that we were going to learn about the lady at the end of the book, or that scene would be resolved and I would have an understanding as to what happened. I came to realize that there would be more of these scenes, and they would never be resolved, leaving me with questions. Like I said earlier, I didn’t really like this aspect of the book, but I now feel like I have an understanding as to why Hamid did this. Obviously the vignettes are scenes of people going through doors and entering a new life, but there is an underlying theme of all of them, that relates to a theme of the book.

First off, I think that the reason that the vignettes are left unfinished and unresolved is because that is what life is like for every person in them. I always had this feeling of confusion, wondering what’s going to happen, how does this get resolved. I think Hamid was trying to put the reader in the mind of the immigrant. There is no guarantee of what will happen next, and there’s no way to know how everything will end up. On top of that, the fact that in all the different vignettes there were different short term outcomes, like the man leaving England for Africa, which made him happy. Or the family who made it out of their city, only to be taken aback by an unknown group of people likely the books form of ICE, or something along those lines. That shows that the outcome can have many different forms. This theme of not knowing, a cliffhanger, is throughout the whole book. To show this, the final words of the book are ” They rose and embraced and parted and did not know, then, if that evening would ever come” 231. The ending of the book leaves another cliffhanger to the reader. I think this novel shows the overall mystery in life, and how nothing can be promised, that there is no guarantee as to how things will end up. To finish though, I think Hamid did an amazing job with this novel, because it shows the mystery of the displacement of people, and life itself.

The Power of Love in Exit West

Exit West, by Moshin Hamid, is a novel about love and migration. The novel follows the love story of Saeed and Nadia, A pair of refugees fleeing their home town on the verge of civil war. However, unlike most romance novels, Saeed and Nadia’s relationship ends with an amicable, fizzle-out breakup.

Compared to most contemporary novels, this ending is quiet odd. We are so used to seeing the story of young lovers fleeing the familiarity of their home and embarking on a long, difficult journey to find somewhere safe were they can be happy and grow old together.

This is not the case in Exit West. Yes Nadia and Saeed venture on a strenuous journey, living in dangerous refugee camps in tense situations; however, the journey only drives them slowly apart and not in the way you think. Usually the couple in a love story is forced apart by external forces, a conflict that seeks to destroy the couples love. However, Nadia and Saeed never experience this type of division. They just slowly drift apart without any drama or action.

Hamid’s choice to include the unorthodox love story in Exit West is not without reason. Nadia and Saeed’s story makes the novel feel more honest and realistic. It is more accurate to what a lot of people might experience in their relationships. In this way, Hamid strengthens the credibility of his argument and makes the whole story more believable and relatable.