Through the Reading Glasses March 2021

By Janet Moore

Do you have a particular directional orientation? Mine has always been north, and as soon as I can locate the North Star and the Big Dipper, I know I can settle into place. It helps that the houses I’ve inhabited as an adult were built on a north-south axis and that my body adapts better to cold than heat. But what if you were an east-west person?

Nadia and Saeed, the only named characters in Mohsin Hamid’s novel, Exit West, meet in a time of impending unrest and eventual war in an unnamed city, say, in Syria. She lives in her own apartment, while he remains with his parents; she wears a flowing black robe as a statement of independence and rides a motorcycle, while he sports a scraggly beard and says his prayers occasionally. 

Together, they talk and share limited affection, occasionally smoke, and wind up in Saeed’s house with his father after the mother is accidentally shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When life in the city finally becomes unbearable with no jobs, no money, no power, and little food, they are lucky enough to pay for an exit through one of the rumored “doors.” Enter the touch of magical realism: think of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. 

Trusting only in each other, they step through the blackness into … Mykonos. It is much like we see Lesbos on the news today, an island of refugee camps off the beaches. People are on the move globally; yet, they must create conditions that allow dignity and purpose and a shared humanity to thrive while they seek another, better place.

Then, after an exhausting but unspecified journey through the next black door, the two emerge into a large house in London, filled with at least 50 other migrants. Refugees are spilling into London every day, forcing many nativists to abandon their homes for the country. 

Although the book is a novel, it reflects a just slightly exaggerated sense of the global refugee movement from east to west, particularly, but also from south to north. Here again, Saeed and Nadia struggle to find community and meaningful work, a large measure of each becoming possible, but their search starts to undo their relationship and provides the impetus for their final journey through a black door.

The Book Club at the Bachelder Library has chosen this for its March read on the 24th; that’s the fourth Wednesday of the month at 7 PM. If you wish to join us, you’ll find the book available at both libraries. Just contact either librarian for a Zoom invitation and be ready for a rousing discussion. See you then!