Mohsin Hamed’s moving story of a refugee couple emerging into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold to their past, and to each other.
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia lock eyes across their classroom. They try not to notice the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the curfews and the executions. Rumours are spreading of strange black doors in secret places across the city, doors that lead to another world. One day soon the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to seek out one such door.
The pair were joined by writer and journalist Kieran Yates to talk about Exit West, migration and magic.
‘For me in Exit West, I didn’t think of it as a magical realistic novel, although I don’t reject that description of it, I think people can think whatever they like,’ said Hamid during the event. ‘But in this novel, it basically obeys the law of physics as we tend to understand them, with one tiny exception that people get to walk through these black doors and suddenly be anywhere else, somewhere else in the world. And for me that was less of a move that I associated with magic and more something I associated with what technology is doing to the experience of being alive at this moment where consciousness can proceed through the black rectangles we all carry along with us.’
Listen to the conversation in full below.
What has it been like to be longlisted?
It’s a nice feeling. My wife and parents are thrilled. My kids are still trying to understand what a longlist is, exactly. For me, being longlisted is being invited to take part in an adventure for a few weeks. In some ways it reminds me of the days just before my birthday, when I was a child.
What are you working on next?
No idea. I usually don’t work on a new novel in the year I’m publishing one. I just keep a notebook and let the ideas build. Eventually I feel I have to start writing.
What are you reading at the moment?
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?
It’s very hard to pick. Probably it would be The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Is a sense of nationhood a strength or a weakness?
Both. A sense of nationhood can create empathy in people for those around them, and in that way it can be a strength. But it can also divide people from one another, and when it does that it is a dangerous weakness. The important thing to keep in mind is that identity is multifaceted. Gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, tribe, occupation, preferences in fashion and food and music and reading – all these things, and many more, can be facets of our identity. But when we privilege one over all the rest – Britishness, say, or Muslimness, or whiteness, or maleness – we do damage to ourselves and to others. When we kill or exclude because one of us is a member of this nation and the other is not, we ignore that both of us are perhaps fathers or daughters or lovers of Pink Floyd or avid readers. We deny that both of us are, above all else, fully human. And when we deny the humanity of others we sacrifice some of our own.
It’s a subtle, compact piece of writing about a relationship, its blossoming and its digressions, its highlights and its descent into something not quite love but not hatred or bitterness either— Baroness Young, chair of Man Booker Prize judges 2017