Exit West

exit west

We live in a time of important decisions. These decisions often center around sanctuary, community, safety, and globalisation. The reactions of Brexit and the US travel ban (now with less calories!) are the result of an increasingly global society that brings with it certain dangers. I do not support these reactions, but I understand the reasons behind them.

And so we have seen different countries around the world deal with refugees in different ways and with mixed results. My own opinion on the matter is that the best way to beat the terrorists is to prove them wrong. Their siren’s song to their fellow people is that “The West” will only hurt them, treat them badly, kill them, and they only need to join *insert militant/terrorist group here* and they will find peace and protection. By refusing them sanctuary, we play directly into the hands of dictatorial regimes and radical militant groups like ISIS.

All that aside, Hamid’s book is a magical journey. We follow Saeed and Nadia from their home country, which slowly falls into civil war, with militants seizing their neighborhood from the government, through magical doors to other areas of the world. From a Greek island to London to California, we experience what it is like to be a refugee in the face of overwhelming nativism. Living in makeshift tents and shacks, bartering for food and other necessities, and the importance of electricity and cell service are all explored in their journey. The most striking part for me was when they were in London, and their neighborhood had been isolated from the rest of the city by cutoff of electricity, the conditions became similar to what they had left. The caution they had to use to avoid warring gangs and factions in the streets, and the territorial bullshit they had to account for was really shocking.

Hamid explores the “doors” to other countries, which are a rather heavy handed hat tip to regulations, bans, and policies held by areas through the scarcity or guarded doors. He also illustrates the strain that tragedy can place on a relationship. When love takes root in times of struggle, sometimes once that struggle no longer exists, the love disappears or has been burned away by the tension. We also see the different attitudes toward religion, with Saeed being drawn to prayer and church, and Nadia keeping her distance. The theme of nativism reigns supreme though, and as a resident of a western country, it felt like a mirror being held up to show me what is truly ugly about my country.

This was a very short read, only a little over 200 pages, and while it wouldn’t be my first recommendation if you were looking for something to read today, it would be a book I would encourage you to put on your TBR list, especially if you have never been or know no one who has been a refugee. This would be a great book to expand your feelings and understanding on the matter, and it would be an excellent book to put on reading lists at the high school and college level as a discussion piece, in sociology classes in particular.

A very good book, a very timely book, make a point to seek out and read Exit West.