Why Did Hamid Need Magic Doors?

by McKale Thompson

In Exit West, author Mohsin Hamid utilizes magical doors to forgo an explanation of how the characters arrived in their new location. Hamid explained in a reading of his book that the doors help to focus the reader on the location and take away the need for a long, difficult, migration story. But, why did Hamid feel that including a long migration would dilute the real theme of his novel?

My grandparents immigrated to America around the early ’70s, but when my Grandmother discuss their early days in America she never starts her story with how she got here. Could her reason be the same as Hamid’s. The primary narrative of migration is the difficult journey from one place to another especially as a refugee seeking asylum. The media focuses on these difficult journeys to gain sympathy for migrants because otherwise non-migrant people diminish their stories. In countries, like America, that provide asylum seekers with a home, the narrative around migrant populations is that they somehow are taking advantage of the opportunities that the non-migrant residents have earned access to. This narrative is harmful because it makes it difficult for migrant people to find stability in a new country and create the foundation they need to start anew.

When my grandmother came to the United States she was discriminated against by Black people, White people, really anyone who believed they had more claim to opportunities in America because they identified as American. So, the media tries to soften the hearts of non-migrant people by covering the difficult often unbearable journeys of migrants, this, however, is not a solution. By reinforcing how difficult the lives of migrant people are, it allows non-migrants to exclude them and maintain power over them. In Jessica Benjamin’s theory of mutual recognition, she explains how binaries create power imbalances. In this case, there are Non-Migrants and Migrants, and non-migrants people reinforce their power over migrant people by pitying them. Mutual recognition between Migrant and Non-Migrant people would require people to realize that their seemingly stable environment could be destroyed within weeks, and they could be in the same situation as the people who they pity and separate themselves from.

In the case of Exit West, Hamid’s use of doors instead of telling a migration story helps the reader to combat this bias against those who have difficult journeys to safety and realize that just like Nadia and Saeed their normalcy is fragile.

You made it! Now what..

When people think of refugees, images of people taking long, difficult journeys to reach a new, better world pop into mind. And while the journeys refugees take are dangerous and amazing stories, that one trip does not define who these people are. The novel, Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid dives deep into the stories of refugees without a single mode of transportation mentioned. Hamid’s use of magical doors for refugees to walk through and end up in random, beautiful countries, stresses how society focusses on the least important part of a person’s journey to a new place.

The real story is how a migrant adjusts from their homeland to a new place with a different language, people, food, religion, and government. When Nadia and Saeed were adjusting to there new home in London after traveling through a door, “The fury of those nativists advocating wholesale slaughter was what struck Nadia most, and it struck her because it seemed so familiar, so much like the fury of the militants in her own city” (159). Hamid’s comparison of the struggles Nadia is facing while adjusting from her homeland that she was forced to leave to a new “safer” land, full of strange people that dislike her simply because she just moved in, creates a new perspective for readers. The readers realize that migrants are people that have faced hardship, they are not invading, but simply trying to adjust, and suspicious natives don’t make that transition any easier. It is challenging for people to travel across unruly waters, but the real challenge comes when those people have to fit into an alien world.

Anti-Immigration Migrants

In Exit West, Mohsin Hamid does an excellent job of analyzing how migrants are perceived by the communities they move into. One of my favorite lines expressing the ideas of anti-immigrant proponents is in Chapter 6 when Nadia is watching the woman from the Vienna art gallery on board the train,

found herself surrounded by men who looked like her brother and her cousins and her father and her uncles, except that they were angry, they were furious, and they were staring at her and at her badges with undisguised hostility, and the rancour of perceived betrayal (110)

The most interesting part of Nadia’s observation is that people withthese beliefs exist and are probably more common than many would believe. Somebody’s looks don’t tell the whole story of their opinions or emotions. I’m not sure how common it is in real life but there have certainly been examples in history where people dislike others similar to them because they don’t like their past identities (or ones they don’t want to associate with anymore). These feelings come in many different forms such as pity, remorse, or the hatred and anger expressed by the men in the passage. I think this is a really interesting look at the human psych and how we view ourselves compared to other people.

The Other is Everywhere


Throughout the novel Exit West, Nadia and Saeed both encounter the other and become the other themselves. Each time the two pass through a door, they find themselves in a new location amongst people they have never met. In these circumstances they feel very uncomfortable because they are viewing the people around them as “the other”. For example, when they are living in the house predominantly occupied by Nigerians, Saeed feels so uncomfortable, and even scared, that he tries to convince Nadia to move to another house. “Saeed was grateful for Nadia’s presence, for the way in which she altered the silences that descended on the apartment, not necessarily filling them with words, but making them less bleak in their muteness” (82)

This dynamic was interesting to me because when I thought about the story from the perspectives of different characters, it’s clear that all the migrants view each other as “the other” or “different”, while simultaneously the natives are looking at them as “the other” as well. As the story continues, this outlook shifts a little. Saeed grows to accept his roommates as almost equals rather than as strangers, and they reach a sense of mutual recognition. 

I think the hesitation Saeed had in these situations largely comes from the way the media portrays the global other. In social media, the news, and TV shows, we are sometimes taught that people from other countries are strange and weird or we are only shown the bad parts of their countries such as violence and war. This leads us to have an uneducated opinion on other people and places. 

Hogwarts

While reading Exit West, I was able to form a solid connection to the strange doors that led to new and unexpected places. I read through the novel and I came across the doors and immediately began thinking. As my brain was processing the specified thoughts of magical doors, it hit me. In the first Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), Harry and Ron are making their way to the train station for their very first day of school in the wizard world. They finally reach the checkpoint which is simply a plain brick wall in the middle of the train station. They then are told to run into the brick wall as fast as they can to surpass into the wizard world. This brick wall serves as a portal to the kids on their journey. The same situation dwelled in my thoughts when Hamid wrote, “…But approached the door, and drawing close she was struck by its darkness, its opacity, the way that it did not reveal what was on the other side, and also did not reflect what was on this side, and so felt equally like a beginning and an end” (103). People migrating through the magic doors associates a similar contrast with Harry and Ron running through the magic wall. They all put themselves at slight risk to reach what they thought was the beginning.

Trauma Bond

Although it’s sad that Saeed and Nadia did not end up together, it makes a lot of sense. They met during an already rough time, but being forced to take that journey together would put a strain on any connection. Any situation that evokes that many negative and stressful emotions is bound to suck all the romance out of a relationship.

While I think Saeed and Nadia were very compatible at the beginning of the book, the events of the war and their journey changed them. For better or for worse, the two of them were not the same people they were in the beginning. Nadia was hardened from the start, already exposed to the horrors of the world through her family situation and her gender but still hopeful for the world. Saaed’s heart was soft in the beginning, but his outlook on the world darkened over the span of the book.

Even though Saeed and Nadia did not end up together, they will always be bonded through their trauma. Their visits might have gotten less and less frequent towards the end, but I think they will always hold a special place in their hearts for each other due to the circumstances in which they were forced to survive in.

On Migration: Time

by Jasmine Wood

Hamid’s level of detail on the smaller, more specific events and interactions of his characters in his novel Exit West creates a relatability to which his readers connect, despite the overarching circumstance of violence and conflict and resulting refugee crisis. While it is clear the novel’s attitude toward global change and immigrants is targeted mostly towards an audience far removed from the experiences of its characters, there is an equally important message of finding unity and respect despite cultural differences. The most readily example would be Nadia and Saeed’s lives early on before their city fell apart. They had movie theaters and cell phones and social media and hallucinogenic drugs – all things that almost every reader can relate to. And so, Hamid effectively bolsters his novel’s theme with subliminable connections that are impossible for his readers to deny.


However, another way Hamid unites his audience is through his writing’s attitude toward change. Even though the change in Nadia and Saeed’s lives is very different than, say, the old woman’s, the author still manages to connect them through the mode of time. Throughout the entire story, the author constantly uses phrases such as “back then” and “in those days.” Consequently, he reflects on his characters’ experiences on a scale of time – past, present, future. Similarly, he utilizes the same phrasing when discussing the personal changes of supporting characters, such as the old woman and her house in Palo Alto. Thus, readers make a connection between the larger global changes and smaller personal changes because both of them are framed as ‘before’ or ‘after’ or ‘now’ or ‘today’ or ‘back then’ or ‘in those days.’ So it is on this level, too, that readers are able to relate to people seemingly a world away. After all, in Hamid’s words, “We are all migrants through time.”

The Other in Her Homeland

Throughout Exit West, Nadia makes multiple points to talk about how her womanhood impacts her experience in her community. Even before her move to her new land as an immigrant, she feels as if she is seen as something nonhuman. Right at the beginning of the book, Saeed asks Nadia why she wears a conservative and concealing robe if she’s not religious. To this she responds: “So men don’t f**k with me,”(Chapter 1). Ending the first chapter with those words highlights to the reader just how much Nadia must watch herself in her home country. Because she is seen as a target for men, Nadia is seen as the other, even before leaving her city to go to Europe. Her experience as a woman has already forced her to watch her back, so unlike Saeed, the switch to a foreign land does not make her feel much more different or exiled. Nadia already lives in fear of what people will do to her because of how she looks- she is already the other in her own land.

Everyone Is an Other to Somebody

Hamid uses language to portray his characters in a less biased way and allow readers to reflect on how words push power dynamics. From the beginning of the novel Saeed and Nadia’s home country and religion are unknown to the reader. Hamid will purposely avoid mentioning either of these facts and refer to them in general terms. Often people, especially in the middle east, become quickly defined by these things due to perception from the media and other sources. Rather than being quickly recognized as an “other” to readers, Saeed and Nadia’s characters are able to develop without being as burdened by these labels. 

Hamid later flips the script on the west. After Saeed and Nadia take a door to England they arrive with other migrants in a house in London in an affluent neighborhood. As more refugees arrive the British people begin to want them out. Here, the author uses words once again to change how the reader views the stories characters. He chooses to call the British people natives, a term rarely used to describe people in western countries. The term native has a perception as being a term used for those oppressed by another group, such as the Native Americans. This calls out the reader’s own bias using this term and putting the British on the other side of the power dynamic. 

In addition to words Hamid uses the emotions and actions of characters to try to level the playing field for the migrants and natives is showing that the countries they come from are not less than those they are going to. This is seen in the brief passage that cuts away from the story about an accountant on the brink of suicide. The man finds a door in his house and is able to be happy in Nambia. “Later his daughter and best friend would receive via their phones a photo of him…  and a message that said he would not be returning, but not to worry, he felt something” (Hamid, 131). This example of a man happier on the side of the door most people are leaving shows that though people are leaving, these are not bad places. This all allows the reader to get a less biased view of the world and mutually recognize those not from the west as their equals.

Reasons Why People Pray

Exit West was written by Mohsin Hamid in 2017 and is his latest novel. It follows a young couple, Nadia and Saeed, as their relationships blossoms and then crumbles as they face extraordinary circumstances. The world opens in an unnamed city most likely in the Middle East facing a violent civil war. Magical doors appear throughout the world, allowing the two to escape to somewhat safer locations, as Hamid creates a world in which migration can occur instantly and without regulation, which has always been a nightmare for much of the world.

My favorite aspect of this novel is its focus on religion and prayer. Saeed comes from a religious family and has always actively practiced his religion. Throughout the novel, Saeed’s prayer is described as less for a devotion to God or righteousness and more as a coping mechanism for the Hell that is unfolding around him all the time. The simplest evidence for this is the fluctuation of prayer: as times get harder, Saeed and his family pray more and more. This isn’t wrong, morally, nor is it really unusual. It just means that these people are not solely identified by their religion.

Nadia is not so religious. In fact, she presents more modern characteristics to the gender-backwards society that takes place around her. She dons a slick motorcycle and likes doing drugs. She always wears religious attire but only as to not sign her death sentence in public. Nadia’s relationship with religion and her family follows the pattern of a breakup.

Saeed and Nadia have mostly different stances in the way they practice spirituality, but the two are not too different to let it get in the way of their relationship. Even so, this difference always persists. To Saeed, Nadia is an “other”, someone with an unrelatable characteristic which facilitates prejudice. Nadia doesn’t feel as strong of a feeling because she’s always been in the minority in her locations (agnostic/atheist). So while Saeed doesn’t value Nadia less because of those characteristics, he always looks for outside help from people with the same religion and the same skin color for when he feels the most saddened.

Religion plays a part in every instance of violence as well as every instance of love. This distinction can even be difficult to make, as in one of the scarier passages in the novel, where Saeed receives counseling from a friendly-speaking pseudo-preacher.

Saeed was torn because he was moved by these words, strengthened by them, and they were not the barbarous words of the militants back home… did remind him of the militants, and when he thought this he felt something rancid in himself, like he was rotting from within.

Hamid 155

Saeed is entranced by the preacher’s words about uniting under a cause, but at the same time can’t tell if he is turning into a terrorist. An instance where religion is strictly violent would be the rebellion in the unnamed city imposing strict laws. An instance where religion is strictly love would be Saeed’s falling in love with the preacher’s daughter toward the end of his relationship with Nadia.

Hamid does a lot with religion in this novel, focusing on violence, love, reasons why people pray, prejudice for those who don’t (or don’t pray to your God), and tone.

Time is a Jeremy Bearimy

In the show The Good Place, during Season 3 Episode 4, the concept of time in the afterlife is explained. On Earth, time is a straight line and events move chronologically. In the afterlife, time moves in a fluid chaotic line, which happens to look like the name Jeremy Bearimy.

Jeremy Bearimy. Past, present, and future are one and… | by HB | Medium
Jeremy Bearimy Diagram from The Good Place

This idea that time and reality aren’t related to each other got me thinking about the book Exist West by Mohsin Hamid, where Hamid created the doors that allow people to migrate instantaneously. According to Hamid, he wrote these doors as a plot device to allow him to not make the story all about the migration journey, but rather the feelings and experiences before migrating and once arriving to a new location.

My question is how do those doors work?

In this universe that Hamid created, time is exactly as we know it except in the instance of moving through the doors. There is no way for you, sitting there right now at home, to walk through a door located in The United States and end up in Greece only a couple minutes later. This balance between time and changing location reminded me of Jeremy Bearimy, where some times the line of time crosses back over itself, loops are created within the line, and there is even a dot above the eye (which according to the diagram signifies Tuesdays, July, Sometimes Never, and The Moment When Nothing Never Happens). The unbelievable, whimsical and chaotic reasoning of time helps explain away some plot holes within the show, and could also have been inspired similar to Hamid’s inspiration to make his migration instantaneous.

Open to New Things🚪

For me, the most interesting aspect of the novel “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid is how Hamid utilizes “doors” in his story. Nadia and Saeed travel many times throughout the book and each time there is always the mention of the doors they had to go through in order to reach their destination. These doors are written almost as if they were supernatural or magical. However, after reading about these “doors” time and time again, I began to believe that they were a form of symbolism for something else (methods of escape). After a lot of planning with their agent, Saeed and Nadia finally decided to leave their home country behind. When they arrived at the seemingly abandoned dentist’s clinic, they are forced to wait in a crowd of other people trying to flee the country as well. When they are finally summoned to the dentist’s office to go through the door, they seem to be reluctant and have many worries about actually stepping through. As Saeed and Nadia approach the door, “She (Nadia) was struck by its darkness, its opacity, the way that it did not reveal what was on the other side, and also did not reflect what was on this side, and so felt equally like a beginning and an end…she took his(Saeed’s) hands in hers and held them tight, and then, releasing them, and without a word, she stepped through”(103-104). Based on the way this quotation is written, I am still a little unsure as to whether or not Hamid intended the doors to actually be supernatural in nature, or just symbolism for means of escape. The way Hamid presents them, the travel from one place to the next seems almost instantaneous (though he could just be leaving out the journey). However, I believe that Hamid’s intention was to provide good insight into what people fleeing their home country must feel like. This quotation demonstrates how when escaping a country, there is a lot of uncertainty as to where the end of the journey will be. There seems to be a lot of risk involved as well, as it could mean the beginning of a new life, or the end of a current one. The doors in “Exit West” can be interpreted in many ways but in my opinion, they add new layers to the story that makes it a lot more interesting.

First Love Never Die

Comparing Nostalgia And Bittersweet Young Love In Exit West And Norwegian Wood

For the past several months, I have been sporadically reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. The novel is a quintessential piece by the renowned Japanese author, often being the most popular of his works amongst American audiences. The coming of age love story of Norwegian Wood sets itself apart from the rest of Murakami’s writings. As seen in our short stories unit, Murakami’s works (The Elephant Vanishes, Barn Burning) are heralded for being jarring, fantastical, and action packed thrillers that defy the norm of Japan’s 20th century canon. However Norwegian Wood seemed to defy Murakami’s rejection of simple, worldly fiction by depicting a seemingly simple and relatively plain love story.

Warning! Some mild spoilers for Norwegian Wood are ahead.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

“I do need that time, though, for Naoko’s face to appear. And as the years have passed, the time has grown longer. The sad truth is that what I could recall in five seconds all too soon needed ten, then thirty, then a full minute – like shadows lengthening at dusk. Someday, I suppose, the shadows will be swallowed up in darkness. There is no way around it: my memory is growing ever more distant from the spot where Naoko used to stand – ever more distant from the spot where my old self used to stand.

“Murakami, Haruki. Norwegian Wood, p. 5.

“If they had but waited and watched their relationship would have flowered again, and so their memories took on potential, which is of course how our greatest nostalgias are born.”

Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West, p. 204.

Exit West chronicles Nadia and Saeed’s burgeoning, thriving, and finally–withering relationship with the same nuance and underlying bittersweet nostalgia that poignantly mark Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. Toru, the narrator of Norwegian Wood regales the story through a retrospective documentation of his memories, while Exit West takes on a more timely and omniscient narrative approach. Towards the end of Exit West, the novel unflinchingly portrays the distancing between two people and the transition from recent past to fading memory. These themes are prominent in Norwegian Wood as Toru learns how to devastatingly confront pain and loss. Similar to Nadia and Saeed, Toru and Naoko fall in love under tragic circumstances which bring to question if either couple were ever really in love at all – or if they were only bound by their shared traumas.

Toru and Naoko are linked by the death of Kizuki (Toru’s best friend and Naoko’s boyfriend). They connect through their mutual grieving, and throughout the course of the book, their relationship carries the fragility and sadness that united them in the first place. Similarly, Nadia and Saeed are brought closer by the political upheaval and violence that plagues their home country. Both couples are inextricably linked, even as they grow apart, because their partners are the only ones in the world who could ever understand what happened to them. In a way this is true for all relationships, but this deep understanding and shared experience is much stronger when trauma, death, and survival are involved.

Similarly both novels address young sexuality and passion under a similar light. This uniquely marks the characters’ journeys into adulthood. The couples’ physical intimacy adds another layer of nuance to their connection, but in both pieces their emotional attachment is far more intense. This layered, rich portrayal of both their connections leaves the reader longing and aching, for a time that never was or would never be. Both Hamid and Murakami capture the passage of time in a beautiful and familiar way. It is not easy to portray such complicated relationships in such a full, dynamic way – yet both authors mightily succeed at doing so.

Understanding Who We Are

In many ways, novelist Mohsin Hamid’s book, Exit West, is a universal story, not bound to time or place but rather to the story of humanity on earth.

With our facade of geographical boundaries, it can seem like our world is efficiently divided in such a way that everyone is born where they belong. But to suggest that humanity has ever been permanently sedentary is to reject our history. Hamid challenges the predominantly western perspective of migration. He exposes the privilege we all hold from remaining where we are. Yet, he intentionally creates a kind of portal of understanding, a sort of relatable take on the very real story of main character’s Saeed and Nadia.

Hamid incorporates a fantastical element to his story through the use of doors. Not regular doors, but doors that are a means of escape, a transportation system that simultaneously speeds the story of migration while also slowing down the significance of the journey. He uses this detour to focus on the undeniably human story of Saeed and Nadia. We have a lot to learn from Hamid. This book alters our notions of migration and questions the idea of the global other. We ought to consider that as a migratory species, spread farther across the globe than any other living being, we are stewards of the earth. Thus, it is our responsibility to let go of our geographical entitlement and treat the world as the shifting, immigrated, and emigrated planet it is.

I believe that we can all take away great values from this book. This is not just a story, but a lesson of empathy, faith, suffering, and movement. This is the human experience.

Perspective

The idea of an other is something is typically thought of as something negative, something/someone that you have no relation to, nothing in common. For instance, refugees are often not thought of as people like ourselves that just unfortunately have been tough circumstances but as totally different human beings, people that are invading other countries rather than focusing on their own. One thing I think is an interesting point is when people make the argument about the United States, is the saying “if you’re not happy here then leave” which is amusing to be because oftten the people that are saying this phrase are people that are against immigration despite the idea that that phrase agrees with the idea that if a person is not happy in their own country (refugees) then they should have the ability to find a life by leaving their war torn countries.

Back to Hamid’s approach for Exit West, Hamid narrates in a way that forces the reader to question why people consider refugees to be significantly different than them. He includes information like Saeed and Nadias relationship with their phones. Additionally, Hamid addresses how difficult it can be for a refugee to have to leave their home and their family and the life that they are comfortable with. I think by exposing details like this it helps the reader see refugees from a more personal prospective.

Dissent

In looking over recent blog posts, it seems like there are a lot of people arguing about the broader messages of Exit West and ideas it brings up. In fact, by my count there are at least 17 posts in the last few weeks who’s title includes some form of the word “other,” a word that, somewhat amusingly, appears in the actual book only 5 times. In light of this, I think it might be worthwhile to examine the book on it’s own merits — independent of broader societal or social ideas that might contextualize it. The question I intend to tackle is this; as a work of art, as a piece of fiction, is Exit West “good?”

As a prerequisite to tackling this question, I must establish a criteria by which to measure the novel’s “goodness.” While there are certainly a variety of ways to conduct such a measurement, I will use Nabokov’s standard for a good writer laid out in Good Readers and Good Writers for two reasons. First, it is a standard with which I personally agree and already has substantial arguments in its favor laid out by Nabokov in the actual essay. Second, it is the standard we established in class at the beginning of the year. The rest of this post will focus entirely on my interpretation of Nabokov’s standards and weather or not Exit West aligns with them; if you disagree with those a-priori standards then I suggest you stop reading now.

So, what does Nabokov demand of a good writer? For clarity’s sake, I will follow the chronological order of Nabokov’s work in outlining each standard. The first such standard for good writing appears at the beginning of the 4th paragraph of Nabokov’s essay but is most poetically summarized near the end of that paragraph; “The material of this world may be real enough (as far as reality goes) but does not exist at all as an accepted entirety: it is chaos, and to this chaos the author says “go!” allowing the world to flicker and to fuse. It is now recombined in its very atoms, not merely in its visible and superficial parts.” Nabokov is arguing that a good writer does not simply take the world as it exists and modify it or mold it to illustrate a point; a good writer, through the artistic process, completely reconceptualizes the meaning of the universe and uses the novel as a lens to provide insight into that new world.

So, where does Exit West fall in all of this? Well, the most notable “recombination” in the world of the novel — one which generally mirrors ours — is the inclusion of doors between different parts of the world. And what is the relevance of these doors from a literary perspective? Hamid answers this question directly during a book talk in 2017, explaining how “the doors in a way allowed me to focus on the sorrow of the departure and also the radical change that happens in a new place, while not having to spend so much time on how we get from place to place. Because so often we think of migrants and we think of refugees and we think how did they cross the Rio Grande…so different from me” (13:50). This is a tacit if not explicit admissions that the doors as a world-building tool serve a particular message based purpose. They allow Hamid to focus less on some details of our reality and more on others in service of making a particular political point about the world around us. This goes directly against the Nabokovian ethos of creating a new world, because Nabokov’s conception of writing is one of pure art — an expression of aesthetic mastery that might have political implications but transcends them in particularity. Hamid’s message, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of “ornamentation of the commonplace” Nabokov describes — a tool to serve a purpose.

In paragraph 9 of his essay, Nabokov brings up another trait of food writing: the ability to evoke an order of imagination deeper then the reader simply “relating” to a character or feeling a connection to one. Nabokov contrasts this lower level of imagination with a model of “impersonal imagination and artistic delight” where the reader maintains a level of “aloofness” and enjoys the “inner weave” of a masterpiece. While there are many respectable things about Hamid’s literary skill and “inner weave” in Exit West, any interpretation that is faithful to the true construction of the novel — explicitly outlined by the author — must utilize the first, lower order of imagination. Hamid does not attempt to hide that this is a novel about migration, explicitly saying this in countless interviews and going to great lengths throughout the novel to demonstrate it (I won’t go much further into examples in the novel here but suffice it to say the name of the novel alone is a strong indication). The ability to understand migration in a different way, to, as a non-migrant reader, attempt to understand migration at all is inherently an empathetic one because only through empathy can the experience provide political impetus. Put another way, ask yourself this; would the message of the novel be nearly as meaningful if you weren’t able to “see the world” through Nadia and/or Saeed’s eyes? Would the book be so impactful in uprooting common western notions of migrants if you couldn’t see the world through Nadia and/or Saeed’s eyes? Can you even coherently read the novel without seeing the world through Nadia and/or Saeed’s eyes? Hamid’s explicit political message forces the reader to use an empathetic level of imagination that falls exactly into the literary pattern Nabokov critiques.

Though distinct, both the points I made above draw from a common well: because Hamid’s message is trying to serve a political point, it undermines the work as an independent artistic endeavor. This is not to say that works that make a political point are all necessarily bad. Indeed, as the son of migrants, I happen to agree with the political point Hamid is making and think he makes this point effectively and eloquently. Many people enjoy fiction with a political message, and feel it helps them better understand the world. And even Charles Dickens himself, one of the author’s cited by Nabokov in his essay, was a strong believer in ethical and political fiction, using his works to draw attention to some of the social and economic problems of British urban life. But in Nabokov’s view, the effectiveness and eloquence of the political message behind a novel is distinct from the “goodness” of the work artistically, as demonstrated by the boy who cried wolf example he gives near the end of his essay. Nabokov reasons that the lesson of the boy who cried wolf story — the fact that the boy was eaten — is “quite incidental.” Instead, this is what he says is important: “Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature.” Hamid’s novel, while effective in making a point about migration, is an embrace of the “moral,” the “lesson” of the story, be it about migration literally or other concepts that interact with it, like, as many of my classmates have observed, western notions of “the other.” And as Nabokov points out, this comes at the cost of the novel as a work of art.

Exiting “Exit West”

There are many important takeaways that come from “Exit West.” The prevalence the novel has on modern day situations is immense. Understating what life is like for people in other countries is a necessary element of life. Empathy is built through understanding. I really enjoyed reading the book, largely because of its non-fiction components and real life scenarios. While initially I was unsure how I felt about the idea of “doors” due to their unrealistic powers, in the end I realized that they were needed to tell the story. At times the long sentences were difficult to consume, but as the book progressed it became easier. Unlike my summer reading book, I did not find a single typo which is impressive considering I am always on the hunt.

One thing I would have liked to see was more detail on the life of Saeed and Nadia after they separated. The last chapter jumped many years and left a lot out. It would have been fascinating to know what they were up to. I enjoyed seeing the progression of the relationship between Saeed and Nadia grow as the book progressed. I expected the book to end with them happily together, but it does not seem like that was the case. I was fascinated by the unrelated stories that were thrown into the book as well. Initially, I though the stories would connect with the events in the novel. I am unsure as to the purpose they served. Overall, “Exit West” is one of the most enjoyable books I have read during my time at OPRF.

A Title: Mr. Heidkamp Loves Titles That Brings in the Reader About Mutual Recognition

Titles can bring in readers just as much as they turn them away, and everybody has a title in a way. Something that people can see on the outside without having any knowledge of the inside. It could be your race, religion, appearance, accent, etc. Often times not understanding something or someone is the reason mutual recognition cannot be reached. However, despite everyone being different in their own sense, I think it is very possible to come to global recognition. Although a full comprehension of someone’s situation is impossible, I don’t think it is necessary for someone to recognize it through shared experiences.

In a sense, we are all migrators. Hamid writes, “We are all migrants through time” (209). People often judge people who have migrated, but it is that mindset that prevents global mutual recognition. Instead of worrying about what land they come from, worry about why they left. I think this book gives people a sympathetic perspective on people that come from significantly different backgrounds. It might give people the incentive to think twice about someone’s story before coming to a conclusion on your own.

Honestly, I don’t think global recognition will ever come. People at their nature are judgmental and greedy. With natural instincts like these, it is simply impossible to be able to empathize and think unbiased thoughts with everybody, especially when sometimes the horrible thoughts you might think about someone might be true. With this in mind, Global recognition is possible in a perfect world, but ours just simply imperfect.

Exit.Inc

While reading Exit West, there was some familiarity with the story. But, I could not pinpoint what it was. Until I read this, “…But approached the door, and drawing close she was struck by its darkness, its opacity, the way that it did not reveal what was on the other side, and also did not reflect what was on this side, and so felt equally like a beginning and an end” (103). Suddenly, I figured it out. The movie Monsters Inc., I couldn’t stop thinking about how the doors in the movie led to new places and new opportunities. I also compared the movie to when the militants from Nadia and Saeed’s country came to attack migrants in Vienna, I thought of the monsters trying to scare the kids. While this could be a pure conscience, I’m curious if Mohsin Hamid was inspired by the childhood classic. What are your thoughts?

The Myth of The Other: An American Tradition

From its earliest stirrings to the present day, The United States has continued to construct itself on the foundation of maliciously mythologized others. The first writers of the American story saw fit to demonize the “Indians,” painting them as savages and uncivilized, conveniently lending settlers the right to take their land. Today, not much has changed. Now the other is in the Middle East, labeled a terrorist in a third world country, and just as conveniently paves the way for America to take their oil.

It is obvious that these stories are born out of greed. A greed that begs for moral justifications. But how does a country create a myth of the other? The ingredients are age old.

The first ingredient is fear. This fear can come in many forms, usually entailing some kind of loss. Loss of culture, loss of stability, loss of jobs. Other times, it comes as the fear of violence. Ironically, slave holders used their fear of slaves to justify their slavery, and yet this group of “others” were the foundation of the southern economy. In the lead up to the Iraq War, this same fear of violence, or nonexistent WMD’s, was used to manipulate the public into supporting an unjust and catastrophic disaster.

The second ingredient is nationalism. This is purely an extension of tribalism, and is just as small-minded. A group bound together by a common fear will act together out of that common fear. This is why many times political leaders will beat the drums of war to silence opposition and maintain power. American exceptionalism is yet another way of creating an “other.” If America is the best, all other nations are inferior. Comparison creates division, and these divisions can be exploited.

The third and most dangerous ingredient is dehumanization. Historically speaking, The United States has been very skilled at dehumanizing groups of people. The most glaring example is represented in The Three Fifths Compromise. If a population dehumanizes another population, it will readily commit inhumane acts against them, oftentimes ending in genocide. But how does a population dehumanize another? Here rhetoric is key. The media and leading figures paint the “other” as an animal, vermin to be exterminated, or as savages who won’t “properly” develop the land, or cannot look after themselves and must be looked after. Once these ideas are planted, they are hard to uproot.

It is incumbent upon individuals and entities to be able to recognize these trends and stop them. If we are to break these cycles, it will be through strong measures. The media must tell stories of the decency of people we once feared. The American priorities of endless wealth and power must be called into question. We must redefine greatness. Above all, we must treat each other with compassion. If we act on that, we can begin to see our reflections in our “others.”