How Exit West Confronts the Inevitable Changes that Come With Time

At the beginning of Exit West, it seemed to be, for the most part, the typical story about a boy and a girl, falling in love, and facing challenges together as their love evolved. Saeed and Nadia met during a time of crisis in their country. Together, they faced war, death, and countless other challenges that seemed to bring them closer. They relied on each other to get through this time of great turmoil. I really expected their love to grow as they faced more and more challenges. But as the book continued, I realized I was wrong.

As they transported to different places around the world, they seemed to gradually grow apart. The crazy new places changed each of them in different ways and by the end of the book, they found it best to go their separate ways. This made me sad because it is not typical in a book for two lovers to grow apart in this way. In fact, I found this story even more sad than tragedies in which one or both of the lovers die. It wasn’t some external source that suddenly prevented them from being together. It was simply the passage of time that prompted their falling out of love. It was nothing that either of them did wrong. Life happens. Change is inevitable.

In Exit West, magical doors take our lovers to new destinations. Although there are no magical doors in real life, there are a countless amount of things that have a similar impact. For example, moving to a new house, or getting a new job. Changes like these are to be expected. But what people are scared to accept is that they have a drastic impact on who we are as people. We have to learn to accept that with time comes change. We will constantly be losing old friends and gaining new ones. There is nothing we can do other than adapt.

In a World of Technology…

The one element about Exit West that never really processed correctly in my brain, was the time period it took place. This may be naive to say, but any story I’ve read involving a period of war and suffrage have always been stories of our past. And while I know that there are people in very similar positions as Saeed and Nadia to this day, I have yet to read a book from a fairly present time, during a state of war, until now.

With this comes the age of technology. The incorporation of the characters having phones and internet access made the reality of war all the more real to me. I found myself more “in the shoes” of the characters than I’ve ever experienced while reading before. The concept of war has always been something I’ve read about from the past or briefly heard of in the news. This was the first time that I was truly able to sympathize with the characters and I believe this is merely because of the time period the story takes place and the world of technology they characters were formally submerged in.

Escape in Exit West

In the story Exit West, the main character Saeed and Nadia both have different ways of releasing themselves from the present and just forget about what is going on around them.

For Nadia, she enjoys rolling joints and smoking weed to help her cope with the stress of the wars and riots going on around her as it calms her down and brings her joy.

For Saeed, it becomes very important to him to pray more once he has left his hometown and it seems to become a way for him to escape from the refugee camp and enter his own world where he can feel connected to his family, especially his father.

The ways that these two characters choose to cope with their stress and guilt of all that has happened around them is very different, which may be a reason for why their relationship started becoming more and more distant.

Hamid’s Style of Writing and How, Really, It’s Much Different Than What We’re Accustomed to, and That Adds to the Story As a Whole, Specifically, His Use of Overly Long Sentences to Stress a Point and Keep Us Engaged.

I loved Exit West. I think the way Hamid writes adds another layer of engagement to this story because he keeps us tethered to his characters and their thoughts. Had he ended his narration with short, choppy sentences, it wouldn’t have felt as free flowing. It’s almost a type of third person stream of consciousness, which is unlike anything I’ve read before.

In terms of keeping the reader engaged, the tiny voice in our heads that reads is out of breath by the time it stumbles upon a period. We have to keep reading because the sentence hasn’t finished yet. Even when that sentence is a page long, we naturally want to finish it because the thought it incomplete.

Many times, we confuse simplicity with quality. The simpler something is, the better and more profound it can be. One of Hamid’s sentences struck me hard:

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).

That sentence is one of his shorter examples, yet it is still just as profound. He manages to clarify himself before the reader has time to object in “not necessarily” as if he is speaking this to us and can see our face change as if to speak and he corrects himself before we can get a word in.

I could go on forever about Hamid’s style but I’ll wrap it up here before I end up writing a page long sentence.

Phones – connecting disconnectors

Image result for connected world clipart

In Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West,” one of his focuses is the effect of smartphones in the human and migrant experience. In the novel, Nadia and Saeed differ in their relationships to their phones: Saeed tries to limit his use to an hour a day as to not get lost, and Nadia fills her loneliest time.

The phones are both a tool and a problem in our lives. We are infinitely connected to all parts of the world, can instantly reach out to friends, and have knowledge at our fingertips. However, they also isolate us socially from the physical world around us, serve as crutches when people forget how to small talk, and a source of stress for those who suffer from “Nomophobia”(the fear of being without a phone).

In their phones were antennas, and these antennas sniffed out an invisible world, as if by magic, a world that was all around them, and also nowhere, transporting them to places distant and near, and to places that had never been and would never be

– Mohsin Hamid

Nadia’s strong affinity for the internet may also have been the reason why she was able to adapt better than Saeed to the new places they lived. Yet, also a way that the couple distanced themselves, finding it too tiresome to try to interact when they were together, opting to scrolling the web. Thus, Hamid argues that in the migrant experience phones are both useful distractors, and also disconnectors at a time when one needs to find a community.

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.

Traditional American Movies vs Woman At War


After watching Benedikt Erlingssons bewildering Woman At War it became extremely apparent that movies in America, carry a traditional format. There are numerous do’s and don’t that they typically follow in order to get those ratings up and awards won. Although Woman at War taking place in Iceland, brings a new and fresh perspective that we as Americans should follow. 
This film captures the double life of 50 year old Halla, a free spirited choir teacher as well as passionate environmental activist. As her passion for the earth grows, her acts become more bold with the intentions of halting Islandic negotiations with a new aluminum base company. In the midst of her already chaotic life, her past creeps up heaving a curveball that essentially forces her to prioritize. As she faces this internal struggle of motherhood and fighting for her beliefs, she decides to pursue one final mission. 
Erlingssons creates this exotic experience for viewers using his resources instrumentally and geographically along with the incorporation of dramedy. His admiration for Halla is transparent, as are his activist sympathies, as they are scattered throughout and make for an overall thrilling experience. Not only this but the story dissects what it means to look, sound and act like a hero without playing into stereotypical hero and gender roles. Focusing on her roles of activism, Hallas environmental stance is not something you would typically see from a women. 
I personally loved the movie. You never saw what was coming next, which is rare. From start to finish I was left on my toes, especially the ending. I found that the instrumental aspect helped me feel more, which I’m sure was the point. Being able to see the band and singers making their music, and react just as I was, was a different and positive experience. It acted as a break to reflect on what had just happened in the film, but its like you’re sharing it with them as well. I also appreciated the importance of family as it was stressed through those interactions with her sister and cousin. Along with the sacrifice her sister makes and the lengths Halla herself goes through to pursue this dream of motherhood. The humor aspect was appropriately distributed and I found the jokes are easy to comprehend and most importantly, actually funny. Overall, this is definitely something I would recommend and invest myself in watching again.

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 Nuance of Relationships In Exit West

In Exit West, Hamid explores various different themes by subverting the reader’s expectations about relationships, Muslims,  and migration. I specifically liked the way he showed the nuances of relationships and developed a theme of how along with a change in place, comes a change in people. As he explained in his book talk, often times migrants are dehumanized and characterized solely as “the other” by westerners. Thus, we tend to forget that these people have intense relationships, homes, and families that are all hard to leave. 

I found it really powerful how he went through the different stages of romantic relationships between Saeed’s parents and also Nadia and Saeed. The inclusion of the passage about Saeed’s parent’s sex life subverted my preconceived notions about how parents and devout relgious people normally act. The mom initated sex more often and shared a passionate relationship with her husband in the beginning stages of the relationship. Overtime, their sex life fizzled down, but the they were still each other’s best friends and thus stayed together until the mom got killed. Additionally, I liked how in both the description of Saeed’s mother and Nadia, Hamid characterized the women as more sexually aggressive and thereby flipped the male/female binary. 

Although I didn’t want to see Nadia and Saeed grow apart, I thought the ending was both fitting and realistic. It’s no question that going through such a large event like migrating to a different country changes people, so it makes sense they separated. I also liked that they were able to amicably separate, something that is rarely seen in movies or books today. It is expected that relationships have to end when people develop a deep hatred for one another, but in this case they chose to end on good terms and still have occasional contact. I thought it was a very sweet ending where they were able to reflect on their time together and be at peace that they didn’t marry, but still smile at their past.

Are the Black Screens of Our Phones the Actual Magic Doors?

Mohsin Hamid in his novel Exit West feeds the readers the theme of escape. Whether through technology, drugs, or the mysterious magic doors, the people in the novel are constantly finding an escape of their perilous reality.

Although these mystical doors are unrealistic, they’re fascinating because they do something that seems so intangible; transport us to another part of the world in an instant. However, we have this power in something much smaller than a door; in our phones. Saeed and Nadia both use their phones – Nadia much more attached to hers than Saeed – to escape their reality. Phones are described to transport them to “places distant and near”, similar to the magical doors that end up physically taking them away from their homeland.

These doors aren’t such a foreign concept to us. As interested as I was by them, I came to the realization that something I use all throughout the day, does the same thing. Phones can transport us to places all around the world in more ways than one. We can purchase plane tickets off of them to physically take us to a different place or we can dive into a reality completely different than ours through videos, pictures, social media, etc. Whether they physically transport us or not, phones are an escape and can take us to different parts of the world in an instant; our own magic doors.

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.

Exit West Vs. Monster’s Inc.

While reading Exit West, I could not get over how oddly similar the idea of the magical doorways was to the Disney movie, Monster’s Inc. In Exit West, the immigrants are seen as these so called “others” who come through these doors and reek havoc and bring chaos. In the movie Monster’s Inc, the Monster’s are seen as scary entities on the other sides of the doors. In both cases, the predispositions about both the immigrants and the monsters are false. In both cases assumptions are made beforehand, and are not backed by evidence. Saeed and Nadia are very similar to Mike and Sully. Saeed and Nadia are misunderstood by the people who want them out of the mansion. Mike and Sully on the other hand both want to fit in in a world that does not like monsters, while at the same time balancing an impending energy crisis. The magical doors appear in both stories. They are meant to be doors to a new world and new experiences in both stories. With that said, All characters still have a connection to their sides of the doors. Nadia and Saeed both miss their country, and Mike and Sully want to find a solution in the human world to bring back to their side.

A Guide to Avoiding Reality by Saeed and Nadia

Saeed and Nadia escape through many different portals that lead them to various spots in the world. This is to escape danger and the violence that is occurring in their hometown. However, this is not the only time they try to distract themselves from life. We watch Saeed and Nadia become lost in their phones in order to access “an invisible world.” Whereas Saeed uses his phone to escape his life in a controlled manner, Nadia has no problem using the internet to the fullest extent as a way of distracting herself from her otherwise dreary everyday life in a war-torn city.  Another way of leaving the real world temporarily is through recreational drugs. Nadia consistently suggests that she and Saeed roll joints together and smoke marijuana and Saeed taking hallucinogen-inducing mushrooms in Nadia’s apartment. These risky decisions are frankly desperate tries to escape reality and avoid the dangers that they would otherwise face. I understand why they feel they have to resort to these habits but it does not change the fact that they are despairing acts.

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.

What it Means to be Native in Exit West

Something that Exit West has made me realize about myself is the way that I think of being a native. We’ve all heard before that no one is really a native anywhere, especially the United States. I’m very aware of this, however, when Hamid mentions that in Marin, there were “almost no natives, theses people having died out or been exterminated long ago” (197), I was shocked. I found myself thinking of the predominantly white European Americans “native” to California. If I had been thinking of the genocide of the actual Native Americans from the beginning of the passage, I would probably not have reacted in this way as my perspective is different from that of Saeed, Nadia, or the narrator.

Whether intentional or not, it reminded me of the way the narrator often sets things up one way, allowing the mind of the reader to run with what he’s implied, and then takes it back. The most notable example of this is perhaps the dark skinned man who comes out of the closet, only wishing to safely escape the room of the white woman. The passage about the natives effectively had a comparable effect on me as when his eyes rolled “terribly, or perhaps not so terribly”(9), the refugees were “stunned, maybe, or resting. Possibly dying” (26), and Nadia’s coworkers were either “looting” or receiving “payment-in-hardware” (70).

Hamid has many great passages in Exit West about what it means to be a native in a changing world, but this was one that could easily have gone unnoticed by a more conscious reader than I.

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.

There’s no equality for life.

The story that Mohsin Hamid tells is a very relevant one in today’s politically broken, war-plagued world. Since we live such privileged lives, satisfied with all of our needs, we often forget about the Saeed and Nadia’s’ of the world. When we are preoccupied with the comforts of first-world life, a world other than our own seems too far away. We cannot fathom what refugees from war-torn countries must deal with. Their lives are based around survival. Their everyday worries are ones we have seldom had to deal with.

One of the most impactful lines in the story happens to be at the very beginning—”for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings an middles until the instant when it does” (Hamid, 4). As someone born and raised in the United States, I have never thought of life in this way. Instead, I saw life and the act of living as a stable state of being. But to someone like Saeed or Nadia, life is much more insecure. For even though we both exist at the same time and the same plane, one explosion could mean the end for a life just as valuable and just as real as my own. 

Homs, Syria

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.