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Mohsin Hamid: finalist for UK’s top literary award
September 18, 2017
"Exit West" was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, which is awarded to the best original novel written in English and published in the UK. This is the second time one of Mohsin’s books was shortlisted for the prize; his novel “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” received the same honor in 2007. 

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When Mohsin Hamid (LOK, LOX, NYO 97-03) was 9 years old, his family left California, where his father had been completing a Ph.D., and returned to Lahore, Pakistan, where Mohsin had been born.

The culture shock, he recalled in an essay for The Guardian earlier this year, was “jarringly total.” Things like the internet, email, and social media didn’t yet exist, and Mohsin quickly lost touch with his friends and his former life stateside. Longing for escape and solace, he soon turned to books.

“In particular I turned to fantasy,” Mohsin writes. “I read the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ by C.S. Lewis. The idea of children passing through a wardrobe into a strange magical land seemed entirely plausible to me.”

Such magical passageways figure prominently in the former EM’s timely new novel, “Exit West.” A poetic portrait of love and family in a time of global migration, the book, released earlier this month, has been praised in both the U.K. and the U.S. One New Yorker critic, in fact, went so far as to call it “instantly canonical.” 

“Exit West” centers on two young lovers, Saeed and Nadia, who meet in an unnamed city “swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war.”

Saeed is devout and devoted to his family. Nadia, meanwhile, dresses conservatively—but only so “men don’t [mess] with her.” Saeed rides a scooter. Nadia rides a motorcycle. But both enjoy the odd spliff, and both long to escape their uneasy lives in a city hurtling toward chaos.

Soon enough, that opportunity arrives. Saeed and Nadia hear of mysterious gateways popping up throughout the city, “doors that could take you elsewhere, often to places far away, well removed from this death trap of a country.”

The two eventually locate one, pass through it, and find themselves instantly transported to Mykonos. From there, they embark on a global journey, involving still more magic doors, that tests their resilience, their relationship, and ultimately their senses of self.

“Exit West” depicts the disorienting hardship and subtle, resilient hope of the migrant experience. In dispensing with the particular mechanics of leaving one place and traveling to the next, the novel directs readers’ gazes toward the familiar.

“It’s the passage that makes us feel migrants are different from us, but that’s a tiny part of the migrant experience,” Mohsin told the Wall Street Journal.

“Mostly,” he went on, “it’s what made you leave home and leave all those people you love behind, which is an enormous sadness really, and then what happens to you when you arrive. I wanted to focus on those two parts, which I think are more universal.”

Mohsin, who worked as a consultant in the Firm's New York and London offices between 1997 and 2003, has said that fiction writers have opportunities to inform public debate.

“We should be glad for these opportunities,” he wrote in The Guardian. “The future is too important to be left to professional politicians. And it is too important to be left to technologists either. Other imaginations from other human perspectives must stake competing claims. Radical, politically engaged fiction is required.”

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Other books by Mohsin Hamid


“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia”

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” (Shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize)

“Moth Smoke”


“Discontent and its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London”

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