Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was really looking forward to this book. It was burning a hole in my pocket because I had heard such good things, and was happy when it was picked as a book club pick for one of my groups.
I ended up disappointed for a few reasons. I think it's a decent read, a quick read certainly, but not the five-star read I was hoping for. The basic premise is a bit of a spoiler, better discovered as you read the book, so I will put it all behind a spoiler tag.
(view spoiler)[So Exit West is about refugees, but instead of crossing borders, there are large masses of people moving between countries through magical doors. The doors appear randomly and sometimes get blocked off by authorities once they know what is going on. The author has said he came up with this concept so he didn't have to dwell on the border crossings. The problem is, without the violence and difficulty of border crossings or navigating the legal system or waiting in relocation camps, the stakes are pretty low for refugees. So he removed what he didn't want to include, but lost a lot of the conflict, the danger, the challenge.
It's also weird to have just one random element of magic in a book. It smacks of convenience, and, well, it is. See above. And even so, magic doors! If they're going to be there, they could have been used so much more. The best bit in the entire novel is when these two older men pass through the door and fall in love. It would have been better if the novel had started with the premise of these doors appearing because of the need of the refugees (similar to Room of Requirement) and then morphed into this entirely other thing.
My last disappointment has to do with the relationship between Saeed and Nadia. No matter who talked about this book, they always mention the romance between the two. They describe the novel as a love story, but where's the love? The two end up together because of happenstance and then out of necessity but there is no spark. They don't understand one another or have the same priorities. So when they separate it does not feel like a loss. SO disappointing. A strong romance would have saved everything. (hide spoiler)]
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