Cover image for Exit west
Title:
Exit west
Publication Information:
2017.
ISBN:
9780735212183
Physical Description:
1 online resource
Target Audience:
NC 1660 L
Language:
English
Abstract:
An instant New York Times Bestseller"It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future... At once terrifying and ... oddly hopeful." –Ayelet Waldman, The New York Times Book Review"Moving, audacious, and indelibly human." –Entertainment Weekly, "A" rating"A breathtaking novel...[that] arrives at an urgent time." –NPR.org As featured in the Skimm, on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Fresh Air, PBS Newshour, the cover of the New York Times Book Review, and more, an astonishingly visionary love story that imagines the forces that drive ordinary people from their homes into the uncertain embrace of new lands. 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 remarkable 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.
Lexile Measure:
1660
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Summary

Summary

WINNER OF THE 2018 LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FOR FICTION and THE ASPEN WORDS LITERARY PRIZE

FINALIST FOR THE 2019 INTERNATIONAL DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD

FINALIST FOR THE DAYTON LITERARY PEACE PRIZE

TEN BEST BOOKS, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"A breathtaking novel...[that] arrives at an urgent time." -NPR

"It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future... At once terrifying and ... oddly hopeful." -Ayelet Waldman, The New York Times Book Review

"Moving, audacious, and indelibly human." - Entertainment Weekly , "A" rating

A New York Times bestseller, the astonishingly visionary love story that imagines the forces that drive ordinary people from their homes into the uncertain embrace of new lands.

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 remarkable 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.


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Hamid's (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia) trim yet poignant fourth novel addresses similar themes as his previous work and presents a unique perspective on the global refugee crisis. In an unidentified country, young Saeed and burqa-wearing Nadia flee their home after Saeed's mother is killed by a stray bullet and their city turns increasingly dangerous due to worsening violent clashes between the government and guerillas. The couple joins other migrants traveling to safer havens via carefully guarded doors. Through one door, they wind up in a crowded camp on the Greek Island of Mykonos. Through another, they secure a private room in an abandoned London mansion populated mostly by displaced Nigerians. A third door takes them to California's Marin County. In each location, their relationship is by turns strengthened and tested by their struggle to find food, adequate shelter, and a sense of belonging among emigrant communities. Hamid's storytelling is stripped down, and the book's sweeping allegory is timely and resonant. Of particular importance is the contrast between the migrants' tenuous daily reality and that of the privileged second- or third-generation native population who'd prefer their new alien neighbors to simply disappear. Agent: Jay Mandel, WME Entertainment. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In an unnamed city with strict social mores, young Nadia is a rebel, an atheist who chooses to live and work independently. In religious and unassuming Saeed she finds the perfect companion. As the two fall in love, their romance is tinged with a sense of urgency and inevitability as the city falls to militia, and basic freedoms and food quickly become rarities. When the situation turns dire, Saeed and Nadia decide to migrate as thousands already have and cobble together every last bit of their savings to find safe passage out. Caught in the whirlpool of refugees from around the world, Saeed and Nadia are tossed around like flotsam, the necessity of survival binding them together more than any starry-eyed notion of romance ever could. If at times the story of refugees facing no easy choice feels derivative, Hamid (How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, 2013) smooths over such wrinkles with spellbinding writing and a story of a relationship that sucks its own marrow dry for sustenance. The concept of the door is a powerful, double-edged metaphor here, representing a portal leading to a promised land that when closed, however, condemns one to fates from which there is no escape.--Apte, Poornima Copyright 2016 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

The extraordinary friendship of an elderly songwriter and the precocious child of his single-parent neighbor is at the heart of this novel that darts back and forth through the decades, from the 1960s to the era of Brexit. The first in a projected four-volume series, it's a moving exploration of the intricacies of the imagination, a sly teasing-out of a host of big ideas and small revelations, all hovering around a timeless quandary: how to observe, how to be. EXIT WEST By Mohsin Hamid Rlverhead Books. $26. A deceptively simple conceit turns a timely novel about a couple fleeing a civil war into a profound meditation on the psychology of exile. Magic doors separate the known calamities of the old world from the unknown perils of the new, as the migrants learn how to adjust to an improvisatory existence. Hamid has written a novel that fuses the real with the surreal - perhaps the most faithful way to convey the tremulous political fault lines of our interconnected planet. PACHINKO By Min Jin Lee Grand Central Publishing. $27. Lee's stunning novel, her second, chronicles four generations of an ethnic Korean family, first in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20 th century, then in Japan itself from the years before World War II to the late 1980s. Exploring central concerns of identity, homeland and belonging, the book announces its ambitions right from the opening sentence: "History has failed us, but no matter." Lee suggests that behind the facades of wildly different people lie countless private desires, hopes and miseries, if we have the patience and compassion to look and listen. THE POWER By Naomi Alderman Little, Brown & Company. $26. Alderman imagines our present moment - our history, our wars, our politics - complicated by the sudden manifestation of a lethal "electrostatic power" in women that upends gender dynamics across the globe. It's a riveting story, told in fittingly electric language, that explores how power corrupts everyone: those new to it and those resisting its loss. Provocatively, Alderman suggests that history's horrors are inescapable - that there will always be abuses of power, that the arc of the universe doesn't bend toward justice so much as inscribe a circle away from it. "Transfers of power, of course, are rarely smooth," one character observes. SING, UNBURIED, SING By Jesmyn Ward Scribner. $26. In her follow-up to "Salvage the Bones," Ward returns to the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, Miss., and the stories of ordinary people who would be easy to classify dismissively into categories like "rural poor," "drug-dependent," "products of the criminal justice system." Instead Ward gives us Jojo, a 13-year-old, and a road trip that he and his little sister take with his drug-addicted black mother to pick up their white father from prison. And there is nothing small about their existences. Their story feels mythic, both encompassing the ghosts of the past and touching on all the racial and social dynamics of the South as they course through this one fractured family. Ward's greatest feat here is achieving a level of empathy that is all too often impossible to muster in real life, but that is genuine and inevitable in the hands of a writer of such lyric imagination. NONFICTION THE EVOLUTION OF BEAUTY How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us By Richard 0. Prum Doubleday. $30. If a science book can be subversive and feminist and change the way we look at our own bodies - but also be mostly about birds - this is it. Prum, an ornithologist, mounts a defense of Darwin's second, largely overlooked theory of sexual selection. Darwin believed that, in addition to evolving to adapt to the environment, some other force must be at work shaping the species: the aesthetic mating choices made largely by the females. Prum wants subjectivity and the desire for beauty to be part of our understanding of how evolution works. It's a passionate plea that begins with birds and ends with humans and will help you finally understand, among other things, how in the world we have an animal like the peacock. GRANT By Ron Chernow Penguin Press. $40. Even those who think they are familiar with Ulysses S. Grant's career will learn something from Chernow's fascinating and comprehensive biography, especially about Grant's often overlooked achievements as president. What is more, at a time of economic inequality reflecting the 19 th century's Gilded Age and a renewed threat from white-supremacy groups, Chernow reminds us that Grant's courageous example is more valuable than ever, and in this sense, "Grant" is as much a mirror on our own time as a history lesson. LOCKING UP OUR OWN Crime and Punishment in Black America By James Forman Jr. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $27. A former public defender in Washington, Forman has written a masterly account of how a generation of black officials, beginning in the 1970s, wrestled with recurring crises of violence and drug use in the nation's capital. What started out as an effort to assert the value of black lives turned into an embrace of tough-oncrime policies - with devastating consequences for the very communities those officials had promised to represent. Forman argues that dismantling the American system of mass incarceration will require a new understanding of justice, one that emphasizes accountability instead of vengeance. PRAIRIE FIRES The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder By Caroline Fraser Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company. $35. Fraser's biography of the author of "Little House on the Prairie" and other beloved books about her childhood during the era of westward migration captures the details of a life - and an improbable, iconic literary career - that has been expertly veiled by fiction. Exhaustively researched and passionately written, this book refreshes and revitalizes our understanding of Western American history, giving space to the stories of Native Americans displaced from the tribal lands by white settlers like the Ingalls family as well as to the travails of homesteaders, farmers and everyone else who rushed to the West to extract its often elusive riches. Ending with a savvy analysis of the 20th-century turn toward right-wing politics taken by Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, Fraser offers a remarkably wide-angle view of how national myths are shaped. PRIESTDADDY By Patricia Lockwood Rlverhead Books. $27. In this affectionate and very funny memoir, Lockwood weaves the story of her family - including her Roman Catholic priest father, who received a special dispensation from the Vatican - with her own coming-of-age, and the crisis that later led her and her husband to live temporarily under her parents' rectory roof. She also brings to bear her gifts as a poet, mixing the sacred and profane in a voice that's wonderfully grounded and authentic. This book proves Lockwood to be a formidably gifted writer who can do pretty much anything she pleases.


School Library Journal Review

A young couple meet and fall in love as their city disintegrates into violence in this spare, allegorical novel. Nadia is a free spirit who lives independently, while Saeed is faithful to the traditions of family and prayer. Any semblance of normal life, to say nothing of courtship, is obliterated by the danger surrounding them, so Nadia and Saeed decide they must find a way to escape. They learn of doors, fantastical portals that defy the laws of physics and grant passage to distant locations. It seems a stroke of great fortune when Nadia and Saeed access a door that takes them to a Greek island. But the respite is illusory. The world's population is on the move, and desperate migrants like Nadia and Saeed are swarming through doors in overwhelming numbers. The pair's love is tested as they ponder strategies for survival. Should they stay, or find another door? Hamid describes with fluid insight the displaced lovers' despair and longing for stability. His use of contemporary details such as cell phone dependence will remind readers that Nadia and Saeed are but a few steps removed from any college-age couple fleeing a homeland at war. VERDICT This short but potent work offers teens a visceral understanding of the world's refugee crisis. Those who are aware of the current political climate regarding immigration will be moved by this poignant love story.-Diane Colson, formerly at City College, Gainesville, FL © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Guardian Review

Folio Academy members have overwhelmingly said prize should be closed to US novelists An overwhelming majority of authors in the Folio Academy, which includes Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith among its ranks, have called upon the Man Booker prize to revert to admitting UK, Irish and Commonwealth writers only, over fears of a new American dominance emerging in the prize. Three years since the Man Booker began allowing any author writing in English and published in the UK to enter, 99% of Folio Academy members who responded to the question have said that the Booker should change its rules again, with most responses citing the new ubiquity of US authors in the prize's longlists. After the 2011 Man Booker chair of judges, Stella Rimington controversially stressed prioritising "readability" and books that "zip along", the Rathbones Folio prize was established that year as a direct challenge to the prestigious Booker. The Folio, which set out to reward "daunting" fiction by any author writing in English and is overseen by its academy of 300-odd members, was first awarded to US author George Saunders in 2013 ; that same year, the Man Booker prize announced it would widen its remit to include any author writing in English. Saunders himself would later win the Booker in 2017, making him the second US winner in a row since the rule was implemented in 2014 - an ill omen for some critics, who believe the character of the prize has been altered by the presence of weighty US writers at the expense of unknown authors in Commonwealth countries, who previously benefitted from a Booker boost. Author John Banville, who won the Booker in 2005 and originally supported the new rule, revealed he has since changed his mind. "The prize was unique in its original form, but has lost that uniqueness. It is now just another prize among prizes. I am convinced the administrators should take the bold step of conceding the change was wrong, and revert," he said. Golden Hill author Francis Spufford said that as major US literary prizes tended to only allow US citizens to enter, the same protections should be extended to authors from other countries. "The effect of opening the Man Booker to American writers without any corresponding shift in the rules for the Pulitzer, National Book Awards, etc, is therefore to diminish opportunities to British, Irish, Indian, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African writers while making very little appreciable difference in the US," he said. "In fact it can be argued that with the Americanisation of the Booker, American readers have partially lost a conduit to excellent writing which they would not otherwise have come across. I don't see any winners in the present situation." British novelist Tessa Hadley said she felt that the Booker's character had changed. "The Man Booker used to provide a point of focus each year for British and Commonwealth fiction: a sense that this had some identity-in-difference, and that British and Commonwealth novels were in some sense 'talking to one another'... now it's as though we're perceived - and perceive ourselves - as only a subset of US fiction, lost in its margins - and, eventually, this dilution of the community of writers plays out in the writing." However, critic Sam Leith remained in favour of the change. "I think that - angry though it has made a lot of UK writers and publishers - there's a clear literary sense in the Man Booker having as its constituency the English language, rather than a territorial remit based on a semi-defunct postcolonial trading bloc," he said. Ahead of the 2018 Rathbones Folio prize revealing its shortlist on Tuesday night, prize co-founder and literary agent Andrew Kidd said the data gathered from the academy would be offered to the Booker Foundation, which manages the prize. "It's up to them to decide how to proceed, it is a tricky one," he said. "Having canvassed the academy, we've had this very quick and unified response. I can see they are in a bind - having made this decision, it would be awkward to reverse it. But there is a sense, in some quarters, that voices that might have been heard aren't getting oxygen any more." Kidd said that while the Folio was a response to "frustration" among writers over the Booker in 2011, the relationship between the two prizes was now "collegiate", with the Folio further differentiating itself in 2017 by also admitting non-fiction. "We're not saying they should change it back. It is up to them to decide. This is not about us versus the Booker, though it maybe was at the start," he said. In February, 30 publishers signed a letter urging the Man Booker organisers to reverse the change, or risk a "homogenised literary future". The Booker Foundation responded by saying there was no evidence that the prize's diversity had been affected. "The trustees believe that this mission cannot be constrained or compromised by national boundaries," it said. The 2018 Rathbones Folio prize shortlist Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (Viking) Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber) Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton) Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry (Jonathan Cape) Once Upon A Time In The East by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto & Windus) Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (4th Estate) The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard (Harvill Secker) White Tears by Hari Kunzru (Hamish Hamilton) - Sian Cain.


Library Journal Review

"We are all migrants through time," observes Man Booker Prize short-lister Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist). The impulses driving such a movement, especially when rooted in violent conflict, is at the core of Hamid's exceptional fourth novel. In an unnamed city (not unlike the author's native Lahore, Pakistan), Saeed and Nadia meet, find love, and expect to share a future, but a militant takeover forces them to flee their homeland. Hamid reveals their tenuous journey from a dreamlike distance that perfectly blends reality with fablelike parable. For example, escape happens through "doors" only accessible via the right contact at the right price. While focusing the narrative spotlight on his lovers-on-the-run, Hamid regularly interrupts the couple's peregrinations with snapshot interludes-a potential murder in Tokyo, a woman threatened in Vienna, an aging grandmother in Palo Alto-that serve as reminders that life (and death) continues for everyone else, everywhere else, every which way. Both mellifluous and jarring, this novel is a profound meditation on the unpredictable temporality of human existence and the immeasurable cost of widespread enmity. VERDICT Libraries would do well to acquire this and all of Hamid's extraordinary titles. [See Prepub Alert, 9/12/16.]-Terry Hong, Smithsonian -BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. For many days. His name was Saeed and her name was Nadia and he had a beard, not a full beard, more a studiously maintained stubble, and she was always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a f lowing black robe. Back then people continued to enjoy the luxury of wearing more or less what they wanted to wear, clothing and hair wise, within certain bounds of course, and so these choices meant something. It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class--in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding--but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does. Saeed noticed that Nadia had a beauty mark on her neck, a tawny oval that sometimes, rarely but not never, moved with her pulse.   Not long after noticing this, Saeed spoke to Nadia for the first time. Their city had yet to experience any major fighting, just some shootings and the odd car bombing, felt in one's chest cavity as a subsonic vibration like those emitted by large loudspeakers at music concerts, and Saeed and Nadia had packed up their books and were leaving class. In the stairwell he turned to her and said, "Listen, would you like to have a coffee," and after a brief pause added, to make it seem less forward, given her conservative attire, "in the cafeteria?" Nadia looked him in the eye. "You don't say your evening prayers?" she asked. Saeed conjured up his most endearing grin. "Not always. Sadly." Her expression did not change. So he persevered, clinging to his grin with the mounting desperation of a doomed rock climber: "I think it's personal. Each of us has his own way. Or . . . her own way. Nobody's perfect. And, in any case--" She interrupted him. "I don't pray," she said. She continued to gaze at him steadily. Then she said, "Maybe another time." He watched as she walked out to the student parking area and there, instead of covering her head with a black cloth, as he expected, she donned a black motorcycle helmet that had been locked to a scuffed-up hundred-ish cc trail bike, snapped down her visor, straddled her ride, and rode off, disappearing with a controlled rumble into the gathering dusk.   The next day, at work, Saeed found himself unable to stop thinking of Nadia. Saeed's employer was an agency that specialized in the placement of outdoor advertising. They owned billboards all around the city, rented others, and struck deals for further space with the likes of bus lines, sports stadiums, and proprietors of tall buildings. The agency occupied both floors of a converted townhouse and had over a dozen employees. Saeed was among the most junior, but his boss liked him and had tasked him with turning around a pitch to a local soap company that had to go out by email before five. Normally Saeed tried to do copious amounts of online research and customize his presentations as much as possible. "It's not a story if it doesn't have an audience," his boss was fond of saying, and for Saeed this meant trying to show a client that his firm truly understood their business, could really get under their skin and see things from their point of view. But today, even though the pitch was important--every pitch was important: the economy was sluggish from mounting unrest and one of the first costs clients seemed to want to cut was outdoor advertising--Saeed couldn't focus. A large tree, overgrown and untrimmed, reared up from the tiny back lawn of his firm's townhouse, blocking out the sunlight in such a manner that the back lawn had been reduced mostly to dirt and a few wisps of grass, interspersed with a morning's worth of cigarette butts, for his boss had banned people from smoking indoors, and atop this tree Saeed had spotted a hawk constructing its nest. It worked tirelessly. Sometimes it floated at eye level, almost stationary in the wind, and then, with the tiniest movement of a wing, or even of the upturned feathers at one wingtip, it veered. Saeed thought of Nadia and watched the hawk. When he was at last running out of time he scrambled to prepare the pitch, copying and pasting from others he had done before. Only a smattering of the images he selected had anything particularly to do with soap. He took a draft to his boss and suppressed a wince while sliding it over. But his boss seemed preoccupied and didn't notice. He just jotted some minor edits on the printout, handed it back to Saeed with a wistful smile, and said, "Send it out." Something about his expression made Saeed feel sorry for him. He wished he had done a better job.   As Saeed's email was being downloaded from a server and read by his client, far away in Australia a pale-skinned woman was sleeping alone in the Sydney neighborhood of Surry Hills. Her husband was in Perth on business. The woman wore only a long T-shirt, one of his, and a wedding ring. Her torso and left leg were covered by a sheet even paler than she was; her right leg and right hip were bare. On her right ankle, perched in the dip of her Achilles tendon, was the blue tattoo of a small mythological bird. Her home was alarmed, but the alarm was not active. It had been installed by previous occupants, by others who had once called this place home, before the phenomenon referred to as the gentrification of this neighborhood had run as far as it had now run. The sleeping woman used the alarm only sporadically, mostly when her husband was absent, but on this night she had forgotten. Her bedroom window, four meters above the ground, was open, just a slit. In the drawer of her bedside table were a half-full packet of birth control pills, last consumed three months ago, when she and her husband were still trying not to conceive, passports, checkbooks, receipts, coins, keys, a pair of handcuffs, and a few paper-wrapped sticks of unchewed chewing gum. The door to her closet was open. Her room was bathed in the glow of her computer charger and wireless router, but the closet doorway was dark, darker than night, a rectangle of complete darkness--the heart of darkness. And out of this darkness, a man was emerging. He too was dark, with dark skin and dark, woolly hair. He wriggled with great effort, his hands gripping either side of the doorway as though pulling himself up against gravity, or against the rush of a monstrous tide. His neck followed his head, tendons straining, and then his chest, his half-unbuttoned, sweaty, gray-and-brown shirt. Suddenly he paused in his exertions. He looked around the room. He looked at the sleeping woman, the shut bedroom door, the open window. He rallied himself again, fighting mightily to come in, but in desperate silence, the silence of a man struggling in an alley, on the ground, late at night, to free himself of hands clenched around his throat. But there were no hands around this man's throat. He wished only not to be heard. With a final push he was through, trembling and sliding to the floor like a newborn foal. He lay still, spent. Tried not to pant. He rose. His eyes rolled terribly. Yes: terribly. Or perhaps not so terribly. Perhaps they merely glanced about him, at the woman, at the bed, at the room. Growing up in the not infrequently perilous circumstances in which he had grown up, he was aware of the fragility of his body. He knew how little it took to make a man into meat: the wrong blow, the wrong gunshot, the wrong flick of a blade, turn of a car, presence of a microorganism in a handshake, a cough. He was aware that alone a person is almost nothing. The woman who slept, slept alone. He who stood above her, stood alone. The bedroom door was shut. The window was open. He chose the window. He was through it in an instant, dropping silkily to the street below.   While this incident was occurring in Australia, Saeed was picking up fresh bread for dinner and heading home. He was an independent-minded, grown man, unmarried, with a decent post and a good education, and as was the case in those days in his city with most independent-minded, grown men, unmarried, with decent posts and good educations, he lived with his parents. Saeed's mother had the commanding air of a schoolteacher, which she formerly was, and his father the slightly lost bearing of a university professor, which he continued to be--though on reduced wages, for he was past the official retirement age and had been forced to seek out visiting faculty work. Both of Saeed's parents, the better part of a lifetime ago, had chosen respectable professions in a country that would wind up doing rather badly by its respectable professionals. Security and status were to be found only in other, quite different pursuits. Saeed had been born to them late, so late that his mother had believed her doctor was being cheeky when he asked if she thought she was pregnant. Their small flat was in a once handsome building, with an ornate though now crumbling facade that dated back to the colonial era, in a once upscale, presently crowded and commercial, part of town. It had been partitioned from a much larger flat and comprised three rooms: two modest bedrooms and a third chamber they used for sitting, dining, entertaining, and watching television. This third chamber was also modest in size but had tall windows and a usable, if narrow, balcony, with a view down an alley and straight up a boulevard to a dry fountain that once gushed and sparkled in the sunlight. It was the sort of view that might command a slight premium during gentler, more prosperous times, but would be most undesirable in times of conflict, when it would be squarely in the path of heavy machine-gun and rocket fire as fighters advanced into this part of town: a view like staring down the barrel of a rifle. Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians. War would soon erode the facade of their building as though it had accelerated time itself, a day's toll outpacing that of a decade.   When Saeed's parents first met they were the same age as were Saeed and Nadia when they first did. The elder pair's was a love marriage, a marriage between strangers not arranged by their families, which, in their circles, while not unprecedented, was still less than common. They met at the cinema, during the intermission of a film about a resourceful princess. Saeed's mother spied his father having a cigarette and was struck by his similarity to the male lead in the movie. This similarity was not entirely accidental: though a little shy and very bookish, Saeed's father styled himself after the popular film stars and musicians of his day, as did most of his friends. But Saeed's father's myopia combined with his personality to give him an expression that was genuinely dreamy, and this, understandably, resulted in Saeed's mother thinking he not merely looked the part, but embodied it. She decided to make her approach. Standing in front of Saeed's father she proceeded to talk animatedly with a friend while ignoring the object of her desire. He noticed her. He listened to her. He summoned the nerve to speak to her. And that, as they were both fond of saying when recounting the story of their meeting in subsequent years, was that. Saeed's mother and father were both readers, and, in different ways, debaters, and they were frequently to be seen in the early days of their romance meeting surreptitiously in bookshops. Later, after their marriage, they would while away afternoons reading together in cafés and restaurants, or, when the weather was suitable, on their balcony. He smoked and she said she didn't, but often, when the ash of his seemingly forgotten cigarette grew impossibly extended, she took it from his fingers, trimmed it softly against an ashtray, and pulled a long and rather rakish drag before returning it, daintily. The cinema where Saeed's parents met was long gone by the time their son met Nadia, as were the bookshops they favored and most of their beloved restaurants and cafés. It was not that cinemas and bookshops, restaurants and cafés had vanished from the city, just that many of those that had been there before were there no longer. The cinema they remembered so fondly had been replaced by a shopping arcade for computers and electronic peripherals. This building had taken the same name as the cinema that preceded it: both once had the same owner, and the cinema had been so famous as to have become a byword for that locality. When walking by the arcade, and seeing that old name on its new neon sign, sometimes Saeed's father, sometimes Saeed's mother, would remember, and smile. Or remember, and pause.   Saeed's parents did not have sex until their wedding night. Of the two, Saeed's mother found it more uncomfortable, but she was also the more keen, and so she insisted on repeating the act twice more before dawn. For many years, their balance remained thus. Generally speaking, she was voracious in bed. Generally speaking, he was obliging. Perhaps because she did not, until Saeed's conception two decades later, get pregnant, and assumed therefore she could not, she was able to have sex with abandon, without, that is, thought of consequences or the distractions of child-rearing. Meanwhile his typical manner, throughout the first half of their marriage, at her strenuous advances, was that of a man pleasantly surprised. She found mustaches and being taken from behind erotic. He found her carnal and motivating. After Saeed was born, the frequency with which his parents had sex dipped notably, and it continued to decline going forward. A uterus began to prolapse, an erection became harder to maintain. During this phase, Saeed's father started to be cast, or to cast himself, more and more often, as the one who tried to initiate sex. Saeed's mother would sometimes wonder whether he did this out of genuine desire or habit or simply for closeness. She tried her best to respond. He would eventually come to be rebuffed by his own body at least as much as by hers. In the last year of the life they shared together, the year that was already well under way when Saeed met Nadia, they had sex only thrice. As many times in a year as on their wedding night. But his father always kept a mustache, at his mother's insistence. And they never once changed their bed: its headboard like the posts of a banister, almost demanding to be gripped. In what Saeed's family called their living room there was a telescope, black and sleek. It had been given to Saeed's father by his father, and Saeed's father had given it in turn to Saeed, but since Saeed still lived at home, this meant the telescope continued to sit where it always sat, on its tripod in a corner, underneath an intricate clipper ship that sailed inside a glass bottle on the sea of a triangular shelf. The sky above their city had become too polluted for much in the way of stargazing. But on cloudless nights after a daytime rain, Saeed's father would sometimes bring out the telescope, and the family would sip green tea on their balcony, enjoying a breeze, and take turns to look up at objects whose light, often, had been emitted before any of these three viewers had been born--light from other centuries, only now reaching Earth. Saeed's father called this time-travel. On one particular night, though, in fact the night after he had struggled to prepare his firm's pitch to the soap company, Saeed was absentmindedly scanning along a trajectory that ran below the horizon. In his eyepiece were windows and walls and rooftops, sometimes stationary, sometimes whizzing by at incredible speed. "I think he's looking at young ladies," Saeed's father said to his mother. "Behave yourself, Saeed," said his mother. "Well, he is your son." "I never needed a telescope."  "Yes, you preferred to operate short-range." Saeed shook his head and tacked upward. "I see Mars," he said. And indeed he did. The second-nearest planet, its features indistinct, the color of a sunset after a dust storm. Saeed straightened and held up his phone, directing its camera at the heavens, consulting an application that indicated the names of celestial bodies he did not know. The Mars it showed was more detailed as well, though it was of course a Mars from another moment, a bygone Mars, fixed in memory by the application's creator. In the distance Saeed's family heard the sound of automatic gunfire, flat cracks that were not loud and yet carried to them cleanly. They sat a little longer. Then Saeed's mother suggested they return inside.   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. Excerpted from Exit West by Mohsin Hamid All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.