I’ve seen this book quite a lot online since its release a couple of months back and finally decided to give it a shot yesterday… and I was transfixed almost instantly with that first chapter, especially once the dynamic Nadia was introduced into my life:
“When Saeed and Nadia finally had coffee together in the cafeteria, which happened the following week, after the very next session of their class, Saeed asked her about her conservative and virtually all-concealing black robe.
“If you don’t pray,” he said, lowering his voice, “why do you wear it?”
They were sitting at a table for two by a window, overlooking snarled traffic on the street below. Their phones rested screens-down between them, like the weapons of desperadoes at a parley.
She smiled. Took a sip. And spoke, the lower half of her face obscured by her cup.
“So men don’t fuck with me,” she said.”
Reading her response was a surge of power.
I continued on excitedly and became quickly invested in the narrative and the smooth switching point of views. I especially enjoyed how the story shifts from focusing on Saeed and Nadia to introducing swift tales of other character perspectives while stepping through a door that can whisk them far away from their homeland. The language in those stories was in particular eye-catching. And I cherished how it gave us a broader look on a vital topic such as migration.
But circling back to the main pair in this book, I was fascinated to follow the relationship and journey quiet and devout Saeed and fiercely independent Nadia undertook through their shifting positions in life after the imminent fall of their city. From students to lovers to migrants to survivors, and so much more… It was powerful and refreshing to witness.
And this quietly beautiful moment stands out most when I think of them:
“Her leg and arm touched Saeed’s leg and arm, and he was warm through his clothing, and he sat in a way that suggested exhaustion. But he also managed a tired smile, which was encouraging, and when she opened her fist to reveal what was inside, as she had once before done on her rooftop a brief lifetime ago, and he saw the weed, he started to laugh, almost soundlessly, a gentle rumble, and he said, his voice uncoiling like a slow, languid exhalation of marijuana-scented smoke, “Fantastic.”
Saeed rolled the joint for them both, Nadia barely containing her jubilation, and wanting to hug him but restraining herself. He lit it and they consumed it, lungs burning, and the first thing that struck her was that this weed was much stronger than the hash back home, and she was quite floored by its effects, and also well on her way to becoming a little paranoid, and finding it difficult to speak.
For a while they sat in silence, the temperature dropping outside. Saeed fetched a blanket and they bundled it around themselves. And then, not looking at each other, they started to laugh, and Nadia laughed until she cried.”
I was moved and strengthened by this passage.
However, their relationship hit a bit of a lull about halfway through the book for me when it was seemingly going nowhere in particular. And then also in terms of plot or character develemopent there wasn’t anything exciting on the table. But once the book managed to move from that rough spot, I was all the more enraptured.
All in all: Exit West was an impactful read about war and migrants and nativists while also veering into themes of love, desire, and religion.