Exit West is a novel I admire more than actually like. Without a doubt it is clever. Although the story is about attitudes towards migrants, Hamid goes a step further and adds a magical realist element by allowing migrants to pass to other countries through magical doors which crop up. The book also is about a young couple trying to survive their war torn country and then when the couple find a doorway they try to survive adapting to their country’s traditions.
As the couple are coping, their relationship develops as well. Hamid manages to integrate this love story without becoming overly melodramatic. In fact the whole book itself is tasteful yet manages to drive the point that, essentially, we are all migrants in some way or another. Definitely a prescient novel.
There’s a lot to dwell on, but the thing that ruined the book is Hamid’s writing style. I felt that Exist West read like a badly translated novel. Although there isn’t cliched dialogue (thank goodness), the writing style is dull. Both the characters Saaed and Nadia had a ton of potential but the flat prose renders them into one dimensional characters. With such a rich plot, it is disappointing to see that the style doesn’t really match. However I am thinking about Exit West and the strength of the themes and how they do reflect 21st century society so there is some merit I guess.
After the rather disappointing DeLillo, I was pleased at the fact that the next book is one that I enjoyed thoroughly Not only is it insightful and somewhat touching but it kept me hooked from the first page .
Changez is a Pakastani recounting the story of his post university life to a stranger in a cafe. He begins by saying how he was hired by an prestigious company that does risk assessing to business proposals. From there onwards the story takes a life on it’s own.
As Changez is becoming more successful in his job he begins to embark on a relationship with Erica, an American, who does have a lot of baggage with her but at this stage the relationship bodes well. Due to this high point in life Changez truly believes that he is an American and is infatuated by the country.
That is until the 9/11 disaster.
After this incident Changez starts to ponder about his race and whether he is a misfit in the U.S. While this is happening he starts to slacken job-wise, and his relationship with Erica starts to disentegrate. Eventually this all leads to out anti hero returning to his homeland, his love affair with America has vanished completely and the book ends on a dour note.
Hamid’s writing style is very precise and is completely without fat, which makes the book very readable. Also as a foreigner who lived in Canada for a very long 14 years I can understand Changez love/hate affair with America. Hamid truly gets into te mind of his characters and his eye for the workings of the human mind in a foreign are spot on. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a small literary triumph