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2017 Man Booker Longlist: Exit West

exit west.jpg

Up next for our panel is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. All of our panel read this book although it was a DNF for one of our panelists. Those of us who did finish it rating it using our unofficial man booker scorecard. Keep reading to see what we thought and where the book ranks on our list.

Goodreads Synopsis: In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Book Worm’s Review:  In my normal rating system this would have been a 3-star read for me and my scoring reflects that. This is a solidly written book but it felt simplistic when compared with other books on the longlist, for me at least, the language lacked a certain magic. It is a well told story but apart from this one sentence “We are all migrants through time.” nothing really jumped out at me as unique.

The idea of doors as portals to other parts of the world was original, but the story of migrants looking for a better life in a new country is one that has been covered in the Man Booker Longlist several times. In terms of character development I liked both Nadia and Saeed and enjoyed watching how they developed individually, and how that affected the kind of relationship they had with each other. The way their relationship changed and developed according to where the “door” took them was also interesting, as different countries with different cultures had an influence over how the couple perceived themselves and each other.

Plot development – in the space of just over 200 pages we see the world dramatically changed by this new “refugee crisis.” The world progresses from fighting against change to the eventual acceptance that individual countries no longer matter instead the whole world becomes multicultural. Personally I feel the book could have done with some more world building, especially how we get from the state of riot and war to peace and redevelopment.

Overall this was an enjoyable read but I don’t think it should make the shortlist.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 14/20

Jen’s Review: What can I say? Even book twins must disagree some times and this time Book Worm is clearly in the wrong! I read this book when it came out and it was my first 5 star read of 2017. Needless to say, I loved it. I actually didn’t find it simplistic at all. In fact, part of the genius in Hamid’s writing is how he is able to convey incredible depth and emotion using a deceptively simplistic and seemingly straightforward presentation. The narrative structure is interesting and use of magical realism is relatively subtle but extremely effective (more so in my opinion than in Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad). The “magical doors” allow the reader to place their primary focus on the commonalities and emotional impact of the migration process instead of the logistics. By adding this magical element, Hamid is essentially making the point that this process is not about specific policies or countries but rather a universal process of adjustment involving “foreigners” to adapt to a new country. How you leave and arrive is less important than the what happens to personal identity and meaning during migration.

The “simplicity” and restraint in Hamid’s narrative style was striking and really made the emotion hit home to me. I found the writing style and plot to be creative, original, and beautifully emotional. Immigration as a literary topic is pretty timely considering recent world events (although it has certainly been a topic of relevance throughout our history). Hamid humanizes the people who are fleeing violence and shows us the heart wrenching impacts that the immigration process can have on relationships and families. I pretty much loved everything about this book.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Lisa’s Review: Exit West made me very sad. Sad for how the story ended for Saeed and Nadia, and sad for the planet Earth in a state of constant war and uproar that forced massive migration. I liked the author’s ability to make me feel sad about Saeed and Nadia while also believing that their ending was not unjust; it was right. It reminds me of how we as humans can fight sadness even when what we really need to follow where it is leading us.  I did not feel the same way about the Earth:  the wars and migrations did not seem just, and reflected for me the injustice and displacement that goes on in our world now. In fact, as refugees, I wondered if Nadia and Saeed got off fairly easy.

Several of the long list books have a magical element, and I think it  can be very difficult to meld  this element into mostly realistic fiction.  However, the magical element for this story – the doors – did not distract me from the arc of the novel in any way. Instead the use of the doors allowed me to focus on the most important part of the story – the relationships amongst people who did or did not go through the doors.

Overall, I liked this book a lot; the sadness I felt was a pure sort of emotion. I liked that the writing was simple and straightforward and easy to read.  And I’m a psychologist, I like thinking about how relationships work.

Writing quality:5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development:4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment:2/2
Total: 18/20

Andrew’s Review: I cannot give this book a fair review, as I was unable to finish it prior to our deadline for publication. I did make it about two-thirds of the way through and wasn’t particularly impressed. I often judge my interest in a book by how eager I am to pick it back up again. For me, reading “Exit West” felt like a chore. Hamid’s writing is beautiful and lyrical, but he rarely uses it to drive the plot (and I’m big on plot). For a book about the global migrant crisis, it’s rather boring. I also failed to warm to the magical realism sprinkled throughout, but that’s never been my taste in writing anyway.

Surprisingly, I found myself feeling rather cold towards Saeed and Nadia, two characters who could have been fascinating. We receive hints of the deeper waters that lie within both of them, but not enough to gain a true understanding of who they are and their motivations. The evolution of their love under the extreme duress of immigration, and the threats posed in the countries they visit, was interesting, but could have been better developed.

My guess is that I’m going to be the lone voice of dissent on this book as it feels like the kind of book that others love. A quick Google search turns up myriad glowing reviews. However, for a picky reader like myself, this book failed to engage me.

Nicole’s Review:  Talk about a book for our time.  Like, literally right now, in the wake of Charlottesville.  This is a book about many things; religion, race, tolerance, intolerance, love, hate, passivity, activity, survival, friendship, loss.

The writing is a bit staccato but fantastic, and my Kindle copy is filled with highlights.  Complex ideas, clearly stated.  There’s a part about African Americans and their “nativeness” to the US.  The author says … “While this layer of nativeness was not vast in proportion to the rest, it had vast importance, for society had been shaped in reaction to it, and unspeakable violence had occurred in relation to it, and yet it endured, fertile….”

I am a very literal person, which is weird because I’m also super sarcastic, and those two things don’t seem to meld.  That’s incidental, but I mention it because I know I missed some of the symbolism in this book.  Regardless, I was enriched by the experience of reading it and found the love story perfect(ly flawed) and moving; tender and sweet.

Loved it.  I feel pretty certain this will be a shortlist book.

“We are all migrants through time.”

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Anita’s Review: Ah, the prose . . . Hamid could write nearly anything, and after this one, I would pick it up.  It’s not hard to read, but just so well constructed and evocative. My one quibble is the use of a magical realism device to transport Nadia and Saeed from location to location. I just don’t appreciate it at all. It puzzles me.  I never quite understand the point.  It’s not whimsical, like say Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, nor carry-me-to-another-world, like Harry Potter.  In this book, I think the author did have some recognition that spelling out the travel arrangements of the protagonists from location to location would simply be boring and detract from the story he wanted to tell.  So there was a clear purpose for making the literary choice he did. But, I find it distracting nonetheless. Which is a darn shame because the love story was really good.  Hamid digs deeper on how love and need can be intertwined and how external forces can shape it. I truly enjoyed watching the evolution of the relationship between Nadia and Saeed.  In addition, Hamid’s story is very much of the moment with its focus on refugees in peril, but in the end, it seems to be going beyond that into something more dystopian.  It’s a very intriguing book, and one I would HIGHLY recommend for book clubs.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall Enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Average score across all panelists: 17.4/20

We want to hear from you! Have you read Exit West? What did you think? Does it belong on the shortlist? Why or why not?

Our Collective Ranking of Longlist books to date:
1. Exit West by Hamid: 17.4/20
2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: 16.8/20
3. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: 16/20
4. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: 15.4/20
5. Underground Railroad by Colton Whitehead: 13.9/20
6. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: 13.7/20

Next up (friday): Reservoir 13 

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nicole R #

    I am right there with Jen and Nicole on this one — I loved it!

    And I completely agree that Hamid achieved with his use of magical realism what Colson did not: a literary devise that was subtle yet added to the story by crafting the narrative in a specific manner.

    Anita will never rave about anything that is even remotely MR, so I think a 17/20 from her is a big deal!

    And yes, even book twins disagree sometimes 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    August 23, 2017
    • Anita #

      Lol, 17 is a good score for me! And I did give this four stars on Goodreads. I predict this one makes the shortlist . . .glad you loved it so much!!

      Liked by 1 person

      August 23, 2017
  2. Tracy S #

    I loved this one, too. I was really hoping that Anita would like this magical realism, since it was just a small part of the book…ah, well. 🙃

    Liked by 1 person

    August 23, 2017
    • Anita #

      Hey, it was impressive how much I liked this book in spite of the magical realism . . .that’s as good as it’s probably going to get.


      August 25, 2017
      • Tracy S #



        August 25, 2017
  3. Sushicat #

    So far this is the only one I read. I gave it 4 stars. I really liked the writing and the way the focus was on the relationship of Nadia and Saeed and how it was changed by their circumstances. I liked how the doors brought people closer and were catalysts for development. But I also missed the things that are left out: what happens during those parts that the doors cut out and is merely hinted at in the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 25, 2017
  4. I just finished this book and loved it and I’m happy to see that most of you did too! (Though I can see Andrew’s point, that those who read for plot probably won’t find much to enjoy…but I am not one who reads for plot.) I loved the magical element of the doors and how it allowed Hamid to speak on immigration and refugees and how the word “native” is often erroneously bandied about. I’d say this book is as important as The Underground Railroad, perhaps more so because this stuff is happening *now*, so I hope it gets the attention it deserves. Review on my site in the coming weeks!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 1, 2017

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  1. 2017 Man Booker Shortlist Predictions | The Reader's Room
  2. 2017 Man Booker Shortlist: Exit West | The Reader's Room

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