Exit West by Moshin Hamid

Exit West reminds me of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Earth in that people suddenly discover a game-changing method of moving from place to place. It also reminds me of Christopher Manson’s puzzle book Maze because of the mysterious doors.

Rumors had begun to circulate of doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country. Some people claimed to know people who knew people who had been through such doors. A normal door, they said, could become a special door, and it could happen without warning, to any door at all. Most people thought these rumors to be nonsense, the superstitions of the feeble-minded. But most people began to gaze at their own doors a little differently nonetheless.

I love the premise, the penetrating insight, and the deadpan style. See below for what stood out as well as when and why I read it.

What stood out in Exit West

Hamid offers insight on a universal level:

All their doors remained simple doors, on/off switches in the flow between two adjacent places, binarily either open or closed, but each of their doors, regarded thus with a twinge of irrational possibility, became partially animate as well, an object with a subtle power to mock, to mock the desires of those who desired to go far away, whispering silently from its door frame that such dreams were the dreams of fools.

He offers insight on a personal level:

Saeed partly resisted the pull of his phone. He found the antenna too powerful, the magic it summoned too mesmerizing, as though he were eating a banquet of limitless food, stuffing himself, stuffing himself, until he felt dazed and sick, and so he had removed or hidden or restricted all but a few applications. His phone could make calls. His phone could send messages. His phone could take pictures, identify celestial bodies, transform the city into a map while he drove. But that was it. Mostly.

He uses finely tuned deadpan humor:

[S]ince the security guards were the first to melt away, a sort of calm looting, or payment-in-hardware, began, and people left with what they could carry. Nadia hefted two laptop computers in their carrying cases and her floor’s flat-screen TV, but in the end she did not take the TV because it would have been difficult to load onto her motorcycle, and passed it instead to a somber-faced colleague who thanked her politely.

Whereas the endless “ands” of The Good Earth were dull, Hamid’s long, rambling sentences are beautiful, insightful, and articulate:

But part of her still resisted the idea of moving in with him, with anyone for that matter, having at such great difficulty moved out in the first place, and become quite attached to her small flat, to the life, albeit often lonely, that she had built there, and also finding the idea of living as a chaste half lover, half sister to Saeed in close proximity to his parents rather bizarre, and she might have waited much longer had Saeed’s mother not been killed, a stray heavy-caliber round passing through the windshield of her family’s car and taking with it a quarter of Saeed’s mother’s head, not while she was driving, for she had not driven in months, but while she was checking inside for an earring she thought she had misplaced, and Nadia, seeing the state Saeed and Saeed’s father were in when Nadia came to their apartment for the first time, on the day of the funeral, stayed with them that night to offer what comfort and help she could and did not spend another night in her own apartment again.

This is a sentence as self-conscious as the characters it describes:

They were dressed in accordance with the rules on dress and he was bearded in accordance with the rules on beards and her hair was hidden in accordance with the rules on hair, but they stayed in the margins of the roads, in the shadows as much as possible, trying not to be seen while trying not to look like they were trying not to be seen.

Machines are animals:

[N]atives did labor alongside migrants on the work sites, usually as supervisors or as operators of heavy machinery, giant vehicles that resembled mechanized dinosaurs and would lift vast amounts of earth or roll flat hot strips of paving or churn concrete with the slow serenity of a masticating cow.

The novel describes a sudden, global restructuring of society in the same way: “with the slow serenity of a masticating cow”.

Behold, what I see as the theme of the work:

[E]veryone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.

When and Why I Read Exit West

This is the first book I’m reading with a friend’s global-themed book club in Singapore.

Genre: fiction (political speculative fiction)
Date started / date finished:  25-Jun-18 to 27-Jun-18
Length: 226 pages
Originally published in: 2017
Amazon link: Exit West