Deservedly Short-Listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize, Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West” traces the displacement of a muslim couple, Saeed and Nadia, from an unnamed country beset by militant muslim fundamentalism across the West. The author refers to them as migrants, not refugees. The artifice for transportation are doors, ignoring the travail of the journey, and focusing on the personal and cultural divide of displaced people in a foreign environment. This teleporting, like Alice through the Looking Glass, is what makes this novel arguably experimental, in a year in which playing with the novel format seem to matter for the Man Booker Prize jury. The novel form is intact unlike other candidates which alter the life path of the principal character, or are more stream of consciousness. The others for me were more gimmicks, but here it maintained the focus on the characters and the universality of the refugee condition. I am more concerned with the author’s description of them as “migrants” and not “refugees”, as the theme, in part, is “Here, but for the Grace of God”. The doors are not a one-way ticket.
There is also strong character development. Saeed and Nadia are different people who manage to stay together despite, or perhaps because of, the pressures of their circumstance. Time and environment do however take their toll.
LIke other candidates for the Man Booker Prize this year, Mr. Hamid is a successful and well-known author who has been Short-Listed for the Prize before, as well as having been a recipient of other literary prize.
I have been rather disappointed by this year’s selections for the Man Booker Prize, although I have not read all of them. Some were good books, but not ones I thought were exceptional. One, which I partially reviewed, I could not get through at all.
I enjoyed this novel and its fresh approach toward the refugee crisis. You might too.