Exit West by Mohsin Hamid follows Saeed and Nadia, a couple living in an unnamed city and country during a civil war. Eventually, they decide that they need to leave their city for their safety–they go through a magic door and end up in Mykonos, Greece. This is their first experience living in a refugee camp. Saeed and Nadia decide that they need to leave the camp and find a better place to live. They go through another magic door and end up in an abandoned mansion in London. There is tension and conflict between the British citizens and new refugees, sometimes resulting in violence. Saeed and Nadia move again, this time to Marin, California. After living in California for some time, Saeed and Nadia separate and fall out of touch. The novel ends with the pair reuniting fifty years later at a café in their native city to catch up about their lives. They leave the café not knowing if they’ll ever see each other again.
This novel focuses on themes of migration, hope, borders, and the unknown. Exit West highlights the refugee experience through the eyes of two young adults living in an unnamed city–suggesting that anyone could become a refugee and Saeed and Nadia’s story could belong to anyone. He gives honest descriptions of the conditions in refugee camps and encounters that Saeed and Nadia have with citizens of different countries that makes the reader truly empathetic towards the characters' plight. Hamid constantly includes symbolism, particularly in the novel’s moments of magical realism. The magic doors that Saeed and Nadia travel through represent breaking down borders, and the possibility of escape from a seemingly unliveable life. Although Hamid uses elements of magic within the novel, he paradoxically exposes and reveals the challenges and extreme uncertainty that refugees frequently face. Exit West prompted me to learn more about the refugee experience when I read it going into tenth grade. Hamid writes “...but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind”. This quotation demonstrates the extreme sacrifices that come with migration and the intentionality with which the decision to migrate must be made.