BkRev 1750. Exit West: A Novel. (2017). Mohsin Hamid. New York: Riverhead Books, 240 pp. $26.00. ISBN: 978-0735212176.
Academic Advisor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
University of Florida
Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West: A Novel describes the migrant experience from the perspectives of Saeed and Nadia, two refugees who come together and flee their country when it is overtaken by insurgents. Saeed and Nadia face the perils of lost homes, family members, and lives, as they travel through various doors around the world to escape danger. These doors take them to Mykonos, London, and, eventually, California. As they pass through these doors, society changes, and Saeed and Nadia are forced to navigate how to survive amongst hordes of other migrants. Their relationship evolves as well, depending on the circumstances of their new situation.
Hamid intersperses short vignettes about other migrants, found beyond other doors, sporadically amongst the tale of Saeed and Nadia. These stories are hazy, with vague information about characters, plot, and surroundings, yet they remind us of the universality of the migrant experience. Through both the primary narrative, as well as the accompanying vignettes, Hamid portrays the hardships experienced by displaced persons, particularly the emotional toll that people feel when they don’t have a home of their own. Especially with Saeed and Nadia’s journey, the author demonstrates the importance of connecting with other people as a way to cope with challenging, and sometimes deadly, conditions.
Exit West serves the larger populace, rather than specifically the advising or higher education community. The message of the novel can be neatly summed up in one line: “We are all migrants through time” (Hamid, 2017, p. 209). Ultimately, Exit West is about the need for empathy for all of humanity, regardless of religion, home country, and socioeconomic status, among others.
While I think the novel’s message is valuable for anyone to learn, other narratives convey this meaning with equal power, while also relating more specifically to higher education. A message of compassion towards all people, immigrants particularly, is undoubtedly valuable, especially in today’s political climate. I hope that not only all advisors, but also all those working in higher education already share that worldview. With that said, Exit West, although an important read, cannot be deemed an essential read for the advising community. Empathy for all persons, especially those who lose their homes and sense of place, is an integral component of being a successful advisor. Exit West can help reinforce that importance, but it is critical that advisors are empathetic in order to best serve students.
In sum, Exit West is a vivid depiction of the migrant experience, and serves as a commentary on the prevalent immigration issues within our current society. Hamid’s prose engages readers, and the focus on Saeed and Nadia enables his audience to empathize with their plight. When working with students who have not yet developed a compassion for others, Exit West would serve as an educational tome, one that advisors should encourage students to read. However, from the perspective of one advisor to another, Exit West is not an essential read since advisors should already know how to be empathetic, and why empathy is so integral to our interactions with our students.
Hamid, M. (2017). Exit West: A Novel. New York: Riverhead Books.