Despite all the buzz, I avoided Exit West for months because I thought it would be a long, heavy read. The description reads like an epic novel and it is…but it’s condensed. The plot has everything those epic sagas do: two young people swept up in romance, a worn torn country, people on the run, and the passage of time. But it does it in 231 pages instead of the standard 750. I love that on principle alone.
Nadia and Saeed are meet in class and fall in love as their country falls deeper into revolution, imposing strict rules on them and their relationship. Though their romance is new, they decide to escape together, bouncing around the world in search of refuge. The story makes us rethink what things we think of as “freeing” (technology, clothing, a home of one’s own), how we view the Muslim religion, gender roles in a relationship, and the affect of time on personal growth.
The writing is simply beautiful. I felt like someone said to me “lie down, child, and I’ll tell you a story…” I felt the romance that initially breathed through Nadia and Saeed as well as the nostalgia they lived with in the end. While the small fantastical element (crawling through magical doors to escape to another country) could have distracted me, it made the characters’ sentiments no less real. I also enjoyed that there was exactly one element of this story that played in the fantasy genre. I can understand why so many people fell in love with this story last year and with barely more than 200 pages, you can easily see if you feel the same way.
4 out of 5 stars.