My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Audio Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
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.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

Many years ago, my husband and I excitedly attended a performance of Phantom of The Opera in Los Angeles.  Even though we had waited months for this, it wasn't at all enjoyable.  Moments before the curtain went up, President George H. W. Bush started bombing Iraq and the Gulf War had begun.

Throughout the show, people were checking the news on portable radios (this was before smartphones), and the cast hurried through the performance, obviously distracted.  I clearly remember crying as I heard the song "All I Ask Of You", where the lead, Raoul, sings
No more talk of darkness
Forget these wide-eyed fears
I'm here, nothing can harm you
My words will warm and calm you
I thought of mothers trying to comfort their children, lovers trembling in each others arms as the bombs fell.  Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, brings this moment back to me.  I was very moved by this book.  It reminded me of the human cost of war, and the turmoil faced by refugees.
What I Liked:
Throughout the novel, the name of the city (and country) under siege is deliberately missing, making the point that this could be any city in any conflict.  As Nadia and Saeed get to know each other, emotions run high as their city comes under attack by fundamentalists.   What was once a beautiful town, begins to turn into a war zone.  Buildings are destroyed by car bombs, snipers make it impossible for people to take a walk, and being the wrong religion could randomly get you shot.
As the story continues to Cyprus and London, the characters become squatters with other refugees.  They share cramped living spaces and limited food and resources.  Locals begin to violently oppose having foreigners in their countries.  The details of this situation make this very believable and terrifying.
I love how fiercely independent Nadia is.  While society tries to tell her what she can't do, Nadia boldly sets out to live her own life.  She lives on her own, not with her parents.  She works and attends classes.  People are confused as she wears traditional clothing, but is not religious.
Saeed is also a contradiction.  He is clearly a modern man, respecting Nadia and her choices.  But he is also a devout Muslim, finding comfort in prayer, and not wanting to have sex before marriage.  This causes conflict for the couple, as Nadia is eager to have sex. 
Love Story:
I loved following the progression of the relationship between Nadia and Saeed.  With all the violence going on around them, the couple moves quickly from friendly chats to clinging lovers.  But are they really intensely attracted to each other, or is it just the circumstances of the war amplifying their feelings?
What I Was Mixed About:
One aspect of the book that was confusing was the use of escaping from one place to another through magical doors.  I get that this is a metaphor for emigrating, and escaping from war.  But it was startling and strange.  One minute, I'm listening to the characters talk about leaving for another country, then suddenly they find a door and they are somewhere else!  I had to go back in the audiobook because I was sure I misheard what was happening.  But no, there were magical doors where refugees were fleeing many kinds of conflicts.  I found this shift from realism to magical realism unnecessary. 
Overall, I found this novel to be quite moving.  As an American, I can only guess how hard it must be to flee one's homeland.  This book captures the disorientation, the fears, and the hopes of displaced people.  It was a compelling read.



Release Date:  March 7th, 2017
Genre:  Magical Realism

Narrator:  Mohsin Hamid
Source:  Public Library
Format:  Audio book
Recommendation: Strange, but spellbinding.  Definitely worth your time to read.
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2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 10 books toward her goal of 120 books.


80% 80% 100 Book Reviews 2016 NetGalley Challenge
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