What image comes to mind when you hear the word ‘migrants’? People jammed together on small boats or crawling underneath barbed wire fences? It’s no surprise that this is what immediately pops into most people’s head. Mainstream media is full of such images. And it is precisely this picture that Mohsin Hamid tries to revise in his award-winning novel Exit West.

Exit West tells the story of two young lovers–Saeed and Nadia–who migrate from their war-torn city in the Middle-East (the name of the city is never mentioned) to Greece, then London and finally to San Francisco. We see how their characters and their relationship change the further West they move and how they experience the physical and mental hardships of migrant life. So far so realistic. What makes Hamid’s novel so special is how he blends magical elements into his otherwise realistic narrative. In this world, people no longer have to undertake long journeys, but they step through doors that–though also perilously and for a price–transport them somewhere else.

By using the device of the magical doors, Hamid draws our attention away from the how and towards the why part of migration. He isn’t interested in how people move–the media is already showing that– but in why migrants move and what living in an unknown country means. While this ignores a large part of migrant experience—the often hard and perilous journey migrants undertake—it also reminds us that migrants are more than their journey and that, oftentimes, their struggles do not end, but rather begin, with their arrival in another country.

And this is precisely the core message of the novel. While we often tend to see migrants as other, as different, Hamid reminds us that they are, above all, human. He goes even further and suggests that, in a way, everyone is a migrant. “We are all migrants through time,” it says in the novel. Whereas governments all over the world try to move back to some ‘better’ time in the past (Brexit and “Make America Great Again” being the prime examples), Hamid reminds us that life is transient. Things change. It’s not possible to go back to some time in the past as everything around us is constantly shifting. Our world is going to become more and more globalized, more connected, more doors are going to appear. Should we lock them or leave them open? Hamid has made his answer clear.

Exit West is filled with poignant social commentary, but it’s also a remarkable story about love, loss, courage and lasting friendship.

Have you read Exit West? How did you like it? Alternatively, if you could step through a door that takes you somewhere else, where would you like to go? Let me know in the comment section below!

5 thoughts on ““We Are All Migrants Through Time”: Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West

  1. This post is very nice. Unfortunately a lot of people have negative views of migrants,not really trying to understand them and their struggles. I might go hunt for this book myself lol

    Liked by 1 person

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