Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
I’ve read The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, the latter a bit tongue-in-cheek, very self-conscious of the global economy, and man’s place in the universe of commerce. In fact many of his stories play with contemporary history—not through the eyes of a romantic, but a pragmatist. The world is basically screwed—which is why I loved his latest novel because moving instinctively with this premise he gently leads us into a dystopia, something not unlike what “could be.”
Yet, the novels I’ve mentioned and this latest addition all are love stories. So maybe he is a romantic. Maybe there is hope after all.
Exit West is about doors, doors that connect us other lives, just as his books are portals into the lives of others—mostly what might be considered third-world, whatever that means because these definitions are quickly shifting.
The US used to be a world leader, used to stand for democracy. How quickly things can change.
A young couple sits at a café, an awkward first date with their phones between them, screen down on the table. Very millennial. Nothing in this scene prepares us for a coming apocalypse. We are comfortable that life will continue as it always has in a somewhat ordered and reasonable manner, but yet in dark corners there are hints that all is not as it should be. I’m surprised at how easily the couple accommodated, adjusted to each new reality. Much like a couple dining in a burned out rubble house during World War II. We burned electricity until it no longer came out of the wall and then lit candles until we ran out of matches and wax. From disaster to catastrophe with the instincts of a survivor.
The metaphor or use of doors to: travel. To suddenly end up somewhere else speaks to the sudden shifts in population we are now experiencing. The crisis magnified by native reaction. Scenes in the book read like headlines. Women in train stations fearful of holiday-making migrants, refugees pulling down fences, foreigners living in tent cities. Constantly the push and pull of humanity to resettle and start afresh.
I would pair this book with Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. There is a speculative nature to the story, the fantastic where people groups move out of slavery or away from war and certain death, and how the contemporary informs the story. I wouldn’t classify either of these works as science fiction. More like: What if?