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.

Doors in Exit West: Magical Portals or Hidden Methods?

In Mohsin Hamid’s novel, Exit West, main characters Nadia and Saeed travel to new places through doors. Although Hamid does not explicitly state that these doors are magical, context often leads the reader to believe so. However, the lack of explanation of the methods through which these doors function leads me to believe that they are not really magical portals, but instead metaphors for methods through which migrants can travel.

As can be seen through the news, there are many ways that people smuggle other people out of dangerous situations to safer places. For instance, there was a truck found in Britain that contained 39 dead Vietnamese people, which is believed to have been a truck full of hopeful migrants. Unfortunately, in this case these people did not survive their passage, but they found the opportunity through an open door, so to speak.

Hamid references these types of doors in a magical sense, but only because these open doors often present illegal and dangerous methods through which to act. Instead of detailing Nadia and Saeed’s journeys through the doors, Hamid decides to focus on what lays at the other side. Therefore, he does not have to reveal and expose such types of methods. He can also establish more focus on Nadia and Saeed’s story as migrants as they live in their destinations, not necessarily as they journey to these places.

The Invisible Third Person in Saeed and Nadia’s Relationship

Saeed and Nadia’s relationship is not one we often see in novels or movies. Compared to many representations, which come off as spontaneous and easy, the two characters relationship reaches depths of pain, irritation, and fear that is rarely ever shown. But, more rare, is seeing the death of a relationship. And a “death” is exactly what occurs in “Exit West”, or at least how it is portrayed by Hamid.

Hamid writes the relationship of Saeed and Nadia like a third person, complete with multiple facets and an ability to be born and to die. Throughout the book, this new person goes through so many changes and shifts: innocently childlike and playful at the beginning of the book; hopeful but weighed down as the two start travelling across the world; broken and tired nearing the end, but somehow still aware. Just as the two characters grow, so does the relationship, but it almost seems as though the relationship is responding in accordance with it’s environment, as a person interacts with their environment, and not as a result of the characters individual actions. And in the end, just as a person dies, the relationship must as well. Nearing the end of the book Saeed and Nadia bury a drone, and soon after part ways and start separate lives. This burial isn’t just the literal burial of the drone but seems to represent an understanding of the end of another life, their relationship. Something Hamid does well is make the end natural. A natural death, just as it was a natural beginning. Because although this third person died, it shouldn’t prevent a celebration of it’s life or an acknowledgment of it’s existence. Hamid makes sure of this.

Do Magic and Migration Mix?

In high school, I have never read a book that involves magic and fantasy. Usually students are asked to read the great novels or non-fiction stories. There has been no book that I have read that is anything like Exit West.

I really enjoyed reading the story because it combined a little bit of magic with the real world. Honestly, at first it shocked me that such an intense topic like emigration and immigration was being mixed with magic. Combining such a serious topic and adding magical doors felt controversial to me. However as I kept reading I thought that the author is not like any other writer. Adding the doors just adds more to the story and makes it not like any other migration story. The doors make for more sub-stories and a new world which makes Exit West a powerful read.

If you think mixing magic and migration, please comment why, I would love to hear other opinions!

Exit West and the Strains of Migration

Exit West provides and interesting perspective on the migrant experience, giving the reader a unique insight into how migration can affect relationships and mental states. Like many migrants, Saeed and Nadia attempted to migrate in hopes of finding a better life for themselves, but the effects of migration show immediately through their relationship. The abuse they face at every turn from so-called natives is straining and eventually leads to the dismantlement of their relationship. In their native country, it was clear that Saeed and Nadia were fond of each other, but as they migrated from country to country, they avoided each other more and more. While it is possible that they never truly loved each other and they only dated due to their dire situation in their home country, I choose to believe that they were once in love. Throughout this novel, Hamid illustrates just how impossible the migration experience can be through Saeed and Nadia. Maintaining a relationship in a new world, especially one with so much instability, is extremely difficult. What Saeed and Nadia had was strong and passionate, but to be in such close proximity with someone through almost constant turmoil is a recipe for disaster.

Did Nadia And Saeed Ever Love Each Other?

In the story Exit West by Mohsin Hamid shows that in the extreme and deadly city Nadia and Saeed seem to fall in love based on normal reasons for example behavior and looks. As the war increases and spreads further into the city causing deaths you see a change in the relationship between the young couple. The relationship becomes more forced like when Saeed’s mother passes away and no one speaks much it began to set a principle for dislocated conversations and communication. When Nadia promised Saeed’s dad to stay with him she made this promise until they made it to a new piece of land through the doors Saeed meets a prests daughter that he began to like and the same went for Nadia; this shows that even though a war and through a promise neither off the two characters actually felt true love but a need to want to be together only to reach a place for them to be able to find their way and be able to leave each other in separate worlds as they were before they meet .

Islam in “Exist West”

I was raised in a Muslim family my whole life and Islam dictates in a lot of ways how I see the world. However, when reading Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West, I feel like my Islamic world and the characters’ views of Islam are completely different. One example is the meaning of prayer in the novel, which strangely does not seem to mention God or worship in any way, shape, or form but is “a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way” (202). However, in real-life Islam and for most people, prayer is a way to glorify God and to reach some form of inner peace, and it is not optional in the way the novel makes it seem. Praying the five daily prayers is a requirement and one of the fundamental pillars of one’s faith, but this is not a reason to complain. Many people including myself and Saeed “value the discipline of it, the fact that it [is] a code, a promise [we have] made, and that [we] stood by” (202). Prayer is a truly mysterious thing and the experiences formed within it can be miraculous but can also be plain, depending on point of view.

On the other hand, some parts of the novel are ‘Godless’ and contrast heavily with the topic of spirituality. You would think that someone who seems to be so into their faith would abstain from smoking a joint whenever they want without feeling a sense of regret, but in this novel it happens. I believe Hamid wants to showcase religion as something that is more important at some times than at others, a sort of artificial, abstract idea that we refer to as a last resort, similar to what Albert Camus is getting at in his novel The Stranger. Personally, I believe that religion can be much more than that but in the strange world Nadia and Saeed are in, with its doors and long sentences, this is somewhat true.

What’s the Point of the Vignettes?

Throughout Saeed and Nadia’s story, seemingly unrelated vignettes interrupt the storyline, just for the plot to be picked up again within a few pages. It was not until a few chapters in that I realized that each vignette portrayed a different experience with the magical doors that Saeed and Nadia would eventually travel through. Still, I could not quite comprehend why Hamid felt the need to diverge from the storyline so frequently. Perhaps it is because each vignette not only provides a different perspective of the migrant experience but also helps further the plot by serving as a parallel to Saeed and Nadia’s story.

The vignettes paint migration as not just a means of escaping war and peril but as an opportunity to find the ideal life for oneself. A man in England contemplates suicide before discovering a door to Namibia and creating a new life for himself there. Regardless of how geographically desirable a location may seem, suffering can always find a way to manifest itself. Hamid depicts migration as a tool to break free from both physical and mental suffering and suggests that we are not as bound to our locations of origin as we may believe we are. In another vignette, an old man from Brazil finds love in Amsterdam and brings his Dutch love interest back to Rio de Janeiro for a visit. The nomadic lifestyle that these doors provide is what allowed the two men to discover their love for each other.

Nadia and Saeed could have had a stable life in England, but they both felt incomplete and were inclined to relocate once again to Marin, California. Through the vignettes and Saeed and Nadia’s journey, Hamid communicates that the reason for migrating can be as grave as fleeing for one’s life and can be as simple as craving new experiences.

Exit West and Carnival Row

Throughout reading this book, I found myself constantly comparing it to a TV show that I watched recently called Carnival Row. Carnival Row is an eight episode Amazon Prime show set in an expansive fantasy world based off of the Victorian Era of England.

In this world, the Fae, or Faeries, come to the Burge as refugees when their home kingdoms become war torn by the ongoing international conflict. The Burge is the land of the humans, but not all of the humans are willing to accept the Fae into their society. Many murders and crimes are plaguing the Burge and the newly migrated Fae are the first to get the finger pointed at them.

While the cast of this show is quite large, the plot of Carnival Row mainly revolves around two central characters and their journeys throughout the episodes. The characters are Vignette, a fierce-willed warrior Fae who has come to the Burge for refuge, and Philo, an open hearted and curious investigator of the Burge.

The journey of Vignette and Philo in Carnival Row reminded me of the journey of Saeed and Nadia because they are both trying to navigate their relationship in a society where some separation and prejudice occurs regarding migrants. In addition to this, Vignette’s story parallels that of Saeed and Nadia because she, too, came from a place that she watched succumb to war right in front of her eyes.

Migration in Exit West

“Exit West” is a novel by Moshin Hamid, it is a story about migration and refugees, focused on a young couple fleeing a brutal civil war. Exit West shows that everyone is migrating and it doesn’t have to be geographically. Exit West teaches us that moving through time and age is a migration of itself.

One passage that stood out to me while reading Exit West, was when Hamid showed a new point of view. The point of view was now of a old women that is lonely because she doesn’t leave her house and only is visited by her granddaughter. The old women states, ” We are all migrants though time.”(209) This sentence caught my eye because I believe everyone can relate to it. Everything around us is changing and no one has control over it.

Foreign People Who Are Not Foreign to Each Other

“In this group, everyone was foreign, and so, in a sense, no one was” (106). After Saeed and Nadia travel through the door and arrive in Mykonos, they realize that there are not many people from their country. However there are a lot of migrants. This line spoke to me because it describes part of the migrant experience. Saeed and Nadia have to quickly learn how to adapt in order to survive. There are many people in the human refugee camp with the intent to survive and eventually get out of it.

This is something that all of the migrants are able to share, they carry the same experiences. The migrants are connected through many different aspects but the most prominent one is that they are all from different countries. They are still foreign to the natives of Greece but within the migrant community they are not out of place from each other because they are all experiencing the same thing and are all from different places. They are brought together since they are all so different and come from different backgrounds.

All of them posses these qualities and are able to use it as something that unites them instead of separates them. I think this line effectively shows the migrant community which is an important aspect in the book. Hamid demonstrates the migrant life and it is different than what I expected. I thought that migrants would be living very independent and individual lives and although this can sometimes be the case, there is a community full of people who possess similar experiences. I thought that this was very interesting and made me reconsider how I think of migrants. They live a very difficult life that is constantly fluctuating and full of worry. Migrants do not have it easy but there are other people with similar situations which should be seen as a positive thing.

Nadia and Saeed may be some of the only people they encounter from their country during their migrant journey. Everyone in this camp is foreign so they are not foreign to each other.

The Tea Behind Why Saeed and Nadia’s Relationship Suffered

When speaking about the deterioration of Saeed and Nadia’s relationship, Mohsin Hamid states “They had not been very romantic of late, each still perceiving the grating of their presence on the other, and they put this down to being too long in too close proximity, a state of unnatural nearness in which any relationship would suffer”(140).

This passage brings into question: Does a relationship tend to suffer due to an unnatural closeness or excessive time spent together?

First of all, couples vary in how much time is spent together. To some couples, hanging out everyday is natural, but to others, once a week is just enough. Therefore, spending an excessive amount of time together varies with each relationship.

The problem comes into the picture when the amount of spent time together leads to arguments and a sense of distress when the pair is separated from one another. These signs often suggest codependency.

A codependent relationship is one where a person is needy or dependent upon another person. Upon first glace, this may not sound like Saeed and Nadia’s relationship. Both are very strong characters, especially the independent Nadia who moves out of her house at a young age, without marrying. However, there is far more to a codependent relationship.

A codependent person’s goal often becomes fixing things, helping others, or pleasing people. This is evident within Saeed and Nadia’s relationship because at various points in the story, although they were experiencing tension within their relationship, they mentioned that all they wanted was to help one another. Saeed wished that he could please and help Nadia but he couldn’t and it filled him with sorrow. This is a sign of codependency because over time he slowly began losing his original identity and started caring solely about helping Nadia.

A codependent person also leans on someone else for support or solutions. Nadia and Saeed relied a whole lot on each other to make decisions. If one did not agree with the other there would be a lot of tension and they always made sure to come to a final decision together. There was no way that they were going to make independent decisions at such a point in their relationship.

Therefore, spending too much time with another person can often lead to toxicity because of the development of codependency.

The line on page 140 struck me as foreshadowing of Saeed and Nadia’s relationship. Similar to a lot of psychological issues, there is a sense of awareness of one’s problem but confessing it is difficult. In this case, Nadia started becoming aware of the toxicity of the codependency but she did not do much to fix it. Instead, they looked towards giving each other space, until ultimately they grew apart completely.

What Is Migration?

Exit West showed us a world where people are migrating by the masses. They are moving across the world by literally stepping through a door. Exit West has showed us the struggle of immigration without the journey of immigration. Many who are not so keen on immigration, or specifically illegal immigration, gain more empathy when they put the journey of the immigrants into consideration, but this story has showed a different side. Exit West has showed the commonality between multitudes of people. That even without the long journey of migration, it is still incredibly hard to move through change and leave life as you know, or to witness others move while one seemingly stays stagnant. Exist West has showed its audience that there is truly not such thing as stagnation or true stability.

Exit West has stories of those that physically moved continuously like Nadia and Saeed and stories of those that did not move at all like the elderly man in Amsterdam, or the older woman in Palo Alto. At first glance, it seems like one is moving while the other is not, but the truth is quite the opposite. The elderly man in Amsterdam was a witness to many components in life migrating or changing: his lover leaving, his father dying, the gain of a new love, while he still remained constant in other ways. He stayed in the same place, never stopped smoking cigarettes, he never stopped hanging out on his balcony. In Saeed’s case, it seemed that everything changed. He lost both of his parents, moved into the western world, and watched his relationship with Nadia deteriorate. But he also had things he clung onto that added stability into his life. He prayed, went to sleep next to Nadia every night, and he worked.

I believe the true thesis of Exit West is best said in the quote from the elderly woman in Palo Alto. She said, “… everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.” Mohsin Hamid beautifully detailed that we are far more similar than we think, although our differences are still prime parts our identities as well. But if we see ourselves in the migrants we hear of everyday and keep in mind our own migrations, although they may not be as intense or life altering, then we would be so much closer to universal understanding.

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.