Exit West: re-imagining the refugee experience

It’s not always easy to feel compassion. It’s an emotion that fatigues and tires us and against which we readily develop mechanisms of self-control and compression.

For me, working directly alongside displaced people for an extended period, remaining vigilant to the social injustices and indignant of the atrocities committed by our governments is hard work.

So as you finish off your current book, I point you in the direction of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. As you read this novel, you can re-imagine and re-empathise with the human hearts beating a retreat from war-torn and conflict-ridden lands.

That over 70 million people are displaced across the world right now is insignificant. Or rather, it signifies very little. Such a vast figure asks too much of our imaginations. We are not all story-tellers.

But the narrative and magic of Exit West does this for you. It is the story of a young couple on a journey that is as much about the power of love as it is about a refugee crisis. Conjuring a dystopia out of a very real present, the authorial craft of Hamid compels you into a universe that is frighteningly close to our own.

The novel follows two refugees, forced to leave their home country and to gamble on an uncertain journey through a series of westward-leading 'doors', arriving into the refugee camps of Greece, the depths of London and across into a crowded California.

It is situated in our present moment of massive globalisation and migration. It offers a visionary picture of a future heading our way, as migration becomes a larger and more powerful social force, challenging the very fabric of our nation-states and their ability to maintain strong borders.

For a short and compelling narrative that is a mirror of our times and a window into the human aspects of a growing crisis, this book comes highly recommended.

Buy Exit West on The Guardian bookstore here.

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