Book Review: ‘Exit West’ by Mohsin Hamid

Mahrukh Aftab reviews Mohsin Hamid’s novel, ‘Exit West’, focusing on its aspect of displacement

A few days ago, my phone flashed as I was sitting under the night sky adorned with bright stars. Now, being a student of English Literature, you must read to stay connected to the stream of consciousness of other individuals. How do they pen down the intensity of emotions? Are their writings suppressed sentiments or desires? After all, reading allows you to let the writer absorb your mental form into theirs, and for a moment, you become them. My sight landed upon a finely designed book cover at the right time to experience a different dimension: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, a novel based on the universal phenomenon of ‘love’ while seeking refuge, combining physical with the surreal.

Curious to learn more, I hastily downloaded the pdf file and began reading to come across an encounter that felt like a bullet splitting my consciousness apart – experienced through the words beautifully penned down, putting me into an emigrant’s shoes, witnessing unusual love and trauma firsthand.

The novel begins in an unnamed city to help its readers form a deeper connection. Centered on refugees and the bitter topic of migration, Mohsin Hamid writes about two lovers, opposite like the South and the North, Saeed and Nadia. Consisting of multiple characters with only the protagonists named, highlighting the good and the bad, the free and the chained, the plot unexpectedly twists as we flip the pages, becoming more intriguing.

The unnamed war-stricken city forces the protagonists to flee their home country, leaving their loved ones behind. I believe this shouldn’t appear unusual to us as we see this on a daily basis. Now you may say, “Not us. It’s them, the emigrants.”

“Aren’t we all continuously migrating? The home you reside in never remains the same. It changes as the years pass by, just like us. Making all of us emigrants,” the writer believes.

The renowned novelist adds the concept of doors working as portals, reminding us of The Chronicles of Narnia. This approach gives the strikingly written book a magical touch. The brilliant idea of doors with myriad souls passing through them to enter or leave, serving as portals, leading us to another side of the globe, the timeless universe, the merging galaxies is phenomenal.

Mohsin Hamid

The talk about the doors starts as mere whispers, ultimately becoming the viral news reaching from one ear to another. The protagonists pass through the opaque rectangle to escape the war-stricken country, leaving them out of breath and damp from sweat. The Hemingway Award finalist has described the passage as tremendously tiring.

Moving to California at three, followed by numerous other plane travels, Mohsin Hamid is familiar with migration and its unsettling aftershocks, which gives the remarkable novel more depth, normalizing the concept of migration. This novel can be considered an attempt to eliminate discrimination against immigrants.

Exit West has given its readers a reality check with a touch of fantasy; that reality check being refugees pushed to a dark corner of nowhere as they search for ways to make ends meet with little to no help. If we erase fantasy out of this novel, we’ll have reality dawning on us.

This novel is perfect for those looking for an excellent blend of realism and fiction. The reader gets to experience the journey from having a shelter to losing it, finding love, and seeking refuge together.

Mahrukh Aftab is a student of English Language and Literature, currently studying in LCWU. Her works are usually based on personal experiences, reviews and social issues. She can be reached on twitter @mah_rukh78 and through email at