Why Exit West Is a Must-Read


We’ve been so enamored with the novel Exit West around here since we read early copies — it’s been darn near impossible to wait to talk about it. What a joy it is to be able to share it with readers this month at last! 

As you may know, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is the March selection for our First Editions Club. It’s about two young lovers, Nadia and Saeed, navigating early adulthood: they go to their jobs, they sneak into each other’s apartments, they text each other and play records, and they fall in love. All the while, their war-torn city — an unnamed location in the Middle East — crumbles around them. They’ve begun fearing for their survival when they hear rumors of magical doors that take people to faraway places, and they must consider whether taking one might lead to a better, safer life.

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In the letter that went out with First Editions Club shipments, bookseller Lindsay wrote, “Every so often, the right author, the right story, and the right moment converge for an altogether perfect reading experience. I’m happy to tell you Mohsin Hamid is that author, Exit West is that story, and this is that moment.” Read an excerpt, courtesy of Riverhead Books and NPR.

But wait. Magical doors? War and strife? If you’re not sure you’re in the mood for all that, you’re not alone. Mary Laura, for example, said no thanks when Catherine first tried to give her a copy — “I hate magical realism. I like realism-realism,” ML said — but at Cat’s urging, she agreed to give the short novel a try. Now she won’t stop talking about how much she loves it.

Exit West captivated me from page one, and I knew it would captivate others,” Catherine explains. “Nadia and Saeed are so perfectly rendered, so human.”

But don’t just take it from us. Critics are enthralled, too:

“[Saeed and Nadia’s] love affair is complicated, as most love affairs are, and is challenged to an unthinkable degree by the conditions they find themselves in. But together, they represent the instinct to find communion with other people, and to love even amid circumstances that mean loving another makes you twice as vulnerable.” – The Atlantic

“Hamid has refashioned the post once filled by Graham Greene and revealed it’s possible to write moral thrillers for our contemporary age” – Lit Hub

“He captures the feeling of being displaced beautifully — this is the best writing of Hamid’s career. . . It’s hard not to be in awe of writing like that, and Hamid somehow makes it look easy.” – NPR

“This gentle optimism, this refusal to descend into dystopia, is what is most surprising about Hamid’s imaginative, inventive novel. A graceful writer who does not shy away from contentious politics and urgent, worldly matters — and we need so many more of these writers — Hamid exploits fiction’s capacity to elicit empathy and identification to imagine a better world.” – The New York Times

Honestly, the only difficult thing about sharing this book with readers is that with so many glowing reviews, the hype is getting a little out of control. Look, we’re not saying this book will do your laundry for you. It won’t erase wrinkles from your face or make your hair shinier. The pages don’t turn into sparkly golden ducklings in your hands. Maybe we should downplay it a bit, so you don’t go into this experience with impossibly high expectations. Fine, then: It’s just a book. Whatever. No biggie. You might hate it.

(You won’t hate it.)

Just read it.

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Want to add this jewel of a book to your personal library? There are a few remaining *signed* first-edition hardcovers of Exit West, and you still have time to join the First Editions Club and receive one. Sign up here or email orders@parnassusbooks.net to indicate that you’d like your membership to begin with this book. There’s no membership fee to join!