Genres: literary fiction; magical realism; contemporary
Why I read it: The description. I’m a sucker for magical realism, and this sounded like something very relevant right now.
Who I’d recommend it to: I think this is one that I would recommend on a case by case basis, after getting an idea of the kinds of books a person usually like or dislikes. I don’t think it’s something everyone will enjoy.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (actual rating more like 3.75/5 stars)
What it’s about:
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.
Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.
I think the description was a little deceiving for this one, but I’m not entirely unhappy about that. The idea of the doors appearing transported people to other places sounded fascinating to me, but I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of reading a love story. **Possible spoiler alert** It wasn’t really a love story, though, or at least not for most of the book. Or, possibly more accurately, this wasn’t a love story The Notebook, or something like that.
My feelings are still so conflicted about this book. I loved a lot of it, but at the same time, I had a difficult time getting through it. Overall, it was a very well told, beautifully written, story, so I think my issue with struggling to finish it goes back to the description and my expectations. I spent a lot of the book just feeling a little confused. The description isn’t inaccurate, but it was a bit misleading. It might also have been the writing, which I enjoyed, but it just didn’t work for me as much as I would have liked.
This story was brutal at times, and very timely with the social commentary. It’s a dystopian, in a way, but not the kind you’re probably used to. Instead of some mythic, possible future (however distant or near), this book is much closer to the harsh realities real people are living in today. Though the country Saeed and Nadia are from isn’t named, it’s easy to draw parallels between their lives and the current Syrian refugees situation.
The refugee and immigration aspect of this was heartbreaking, mostly (although not entirely), and that alone would be enough for me to recommend this book to a lot of people. You want to see things from another perspective? Read this. I too often hear people talk about immigrants like they’re all less than human, and lump them together in some awful category (terrorists, etc.), and I think, or hope, that books like this might help people like that to see things differently. The world needs a lot more compassion, and hopefully things like Exit West will inspire more people to look beyond their prejudices and hate and be more sympathetic and kind.
Following Nadia and Saeed was kind of an emotional roller coaster. There were highs and lows, intense moments, quiet moments, and everything in between. I never had any idea what would happen next, or how things would turn out in the end. I liked both characters, and they both seemed so realistic. These were probably two of the most human characters I’ve ever read about, now that I think about it, and I was rooting for them throughout the entire book. I didn’t care much, either way, if their romantic relationship worked out or not, I just wanted them to find peace, safety, and happiness.
I thought this book was going to try to pack too much into too little space (the book is just a little under 250 pages), but that fear was unnecessary. I never felt like too little attention was given to any feeling or situation, even the little snippets we got of what other doors were like for other people from other places. Those bits were a little strange at first, but still enjoyable, and I actually kind of wish there had been a bit more to them.
I’m afraid to say much more because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, so I’ll just conclude by saying that, yes, I would probably recommend this.
If you’ve read Exit West, what did you think of it?