Our members had mixed reviews for Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. I believe we all agreed that the subject is timely and important. Our first responder said she liked it better than she thought she would; another liked it better after she had finished reading. For one of us, the early imagery of a war-torn town was effective, especially the scene when Saeed watches a seemingly normal game of empty-lot soccer and then realizes the football is a human head. Many of us like the writing but we couldn’t describe the style or why. I asked one member if he had finished it, since he didn’t care for the book, and he responded, “Of course! It’s homework!”
As expected, the use of magic doorways for immigration was particularly troublesome. We agreed that it enabled the author to focus on the immigrant experience in each country, rather than getting bogged down in migration, but in many ways that also minimized the hardships that immigrants are willing to endure just travelling to a new home. We discussed immigrants crossing the desert in the same heat that melts us just moving from car to building; the leaky, crowded boats, waiting in the water for a place to land in Malta; and the news that “Syrian government officials vowed Monday to ensure the safe return of refugees and urged Western countries to encourage the process by lifting sanctions.” I mentioned a review that compared the doorways to C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe in Narnia, and although we weren’t sure about that connection, perhaps it highlights the needed contribution the immigrants bring, since the children in those books rescue the country.
I was affected by how Saeed searched out familiarity in groups with other immigrants, while Nadia embraced the freedom and individuality of London. This reminded us of other books we have read that showcase the varied and personal immigrant experience: The Namesake, Digging to America, and The Kite Runner. One of us is an immigrant, married to an American. Although she became immersed in American culture, she knew many others who clung to British foods and British goods. Another member has a hard-working Arab-immigrant brother-in-law whom she admires greatly, and she loved the book.
Some of the author’s references particularly resonated with us. “In exchange for their labor . . . migrants were promised forty meters and a pipe,” reminiscent of the promised 40 acres and a mule promised to freed slaves after the Civil War. Or how “one’s relationship to windows now changed in the city. A window was the border through which death was possibly most likely to come.” We take so many things for granted.
I mentioned that reading fiction increases empathy and how important reading books like Exit West are for helping us understand our world and neighbors, even if it doesn’t help us solve our problems. Exit West is a difficult book to discuss because its primary impact is about the immigrant experience, which brings up some hotly debated issues that can break up friends and marriages! But we must discuss them, just as we must discuss politics. One of us mentioned how television shows choose people for their opposing opinions because it increases ratings – and we are all influenced by our media. Perhaps we need to remind and teach people how to discuss important issues politely. Differing opinions and experiences are essential for out-of-the-box thinking and solutions!
We didn’t discuss everything we could have and even finished a little early. Read below for some other books to consider. Next month we will continue the discussion with The Other Einstein (2016) by Marie Benedict.
- OTHER WORKS DISCUSSED:
- Becoming Leonardo : an exploded view of the life of Leonardo da Vinci (2017) Mike Lankford
- Digging to America : a novel (2006) by Anne Tyler
- The kite runner (2003) Khaled Hosseini
- The little old lady who broke all the rules : a novel (2016) Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg ; translated from the Swedish by Rod Bradbury
- The namesake (2003) Jhumpa Lahiri
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) Mohsin Hamid
- Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline
 Exit West, Chapter 5 (page 87).
 DMITRY KOZLOV AND SERGEI GRITS, ASSOCIATED PRESS, 13 August 2018. ABC News.Web accessed 8/17/18: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/syria-vows-refugees-return-sanctions-lifted-57150844.
 Kakutani, Michiko. “Review: In ‘Exit West,’ Mohsin Hamid Mixes Global Trouble With a Bit of Magic.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Feb. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/books/review-exit-west-mohsin-hamid.html.
 Exit West, Chapter 9 (pages 169-170),
 Acres, “Forty, and a Mule.”. “Forty Acres and a Mule.” Gale Library of Daily Life: Slavery in America, Encyclopedia.com, 2018, http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/forty-acres-and-mule.
 Exit West, Chapter 4 (page 71)
 Chiaet, Julianne. “Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy.” Scientific American, 4 Oct. 2013, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/.