Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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cover; links to goodreads

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)

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


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.


Review:

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?

 

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First Lines Fridays: June 16th

first-lines-fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

The Rules:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first

Finally… reveal the book!

 


In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. 


 

 

Interested? Keep reading to find out which book this is from.

 

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

30688435What 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.

(Cover links to goodreads)

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


I can’t even remember how this ended up on my radar because I feel like I’ve seen it everywhere. However I found out about, I read the description and was intrigued, especially when I saw it shelved as “magical realism,” because I’m always looking for more great magical realism reads. I have some theories about how that part will play out, but I’ve only read the first page so far, so I guess I’ll have to wait and see if I’m right.


Have you read it? What did you think of it?

 

Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

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cover; links to goodreads


Genres:
literary fiction; contemporary

Why I read it: I read a sample in Buzz Books back in 2015 (the publication year) and absolutely fell in love with Groff’s writing style. I’ve been itching to get a copy ever since and finally did.

Who I’d recommend it to: This is a tough thing because I know this novel will not appeal to everyone. If you like secrets and characters that aren’t always likable, maybe read a preview and see what you think of it.

 

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


What it’s about:

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.


Review:

I’m a sucker for a great cover, so I have to mention is. If I hadn’t come across this in that Buzz Books sampler, I would have pounced on this in a store because it’s a gorgeous cover, and the title is pretty great, too.

Before I dive into this, I’m going to go ahead and say that this will probably be a vague, short review. I’ve seen other reviews mention that you should probably go into this not knowing a lot about it, and I definitely agree with that. I went into it knowing pretty much nothing, and not even really remembering what I’d read those two years ago. I just remembered the writing was amazing and I had to read it, no matter what it was about.

This novel is divided into two sections: Fates is the first, and Furies is the second. The first section is more about Lotto, and Lotto & Mathilde as a couple, while Furies is more about Mathilde. The first section is a bit slower, but it does pick up in the second.

The writing style takes a little getting used to, I think, and even by the end of the book I felt like I couldn’t read it very quickly. Lauren Groff is a wonderful writer (I’m basing this assumption on only this book), and she uses a lot of very direct, non-flowery sentences, which are sometimes quite short. It’s almost choppy writing, but more like a razor than an axe. It’s precise and deeper than you might first expect.

Before reading this, I would suggest preparing yourself to not necessarily like the characters. I’m not sure I actually, truly, liked any of them, and I’m not upset by that at all. Usually I would be, but they were all written so well, so believably, I don’t mind that they weren’t wonderful people. They were life-like, and I appreciate that.

I don’t normally read a lot of contemporary fiction or literary fiction, but this book makes me want to consider changing that. It was compelling, at least by the second half, and I found myself not wanting to put it down. I had to know more and see how so many threads were woven together. I ended up staying up over 36 hours to finish it (I didn’t read that entire time, I just sacrificed sleep to finish).

Essentially, this book was a fascinating look behind the curtain of a marriage, and a reminder that no matter how well you know someone, no matter how much time you spend together, how much of your lives you share, you still don’t know everything about them. There’s much more, but I don’t want to elaborate because, as I said, I feel like this is a book you should begin knowing as little about it as possible.

Do I recommend it? Yes, but tentatively, because it really will not be for everyone. (On a side note, this was apparently President Obama’s favorite book from 2015, which I think is neat.)


Have you read Fates and Furies? What did you think of it?