Exit West is a 2017 novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid. It is Hamid's fourth novel. The main themes of the novel are emigration and refugee problems.[1] The novel, which can be considered fantasy or speculative fiction,[2] is about a young couple, Saeed and Nadia, who live in an unnamed city undergoing civil war and finally have to flee, using a system of magical doors that lead to different locations around the globe.[3]

Exit West
Exit West.png
First edition (UK)
AuthorMohsin Hamid
Audio read byMohsin Hamid
CountryUnited States
PublisherHamish Hamilton (UK)
Riverhead Books (US)
Publication date
March 2017
AwardsLos Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, Aspen Words Literary Prize

Hamid has recently emerged as a respected writer and writes Exit West during a time of much controversy over refugees and immigration. Scholars analyze Exit West for its suggestions about global politics, use of technology, and calls for better treatment of the environment.

Exit West won Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (2017)[4] and Aspen Words Literary Prize (2018)[5][6] and was shortlisted for a number of other awards.


Since 2010, Hamid has emerged as an author known for writing fiction that explores alternate ways of global living and emphasizes the disadvantages of being born in a third-world country.[7] Hamid wrote Moth Smoke (2000), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), How to Get Filthy Rich in Asia (2013), and then Exit West in 2017. All four stories focus on the experiences and journeys of characters originally from Pakistan.[8]

Written after the era of Trump and Brexit,[2] Moshin Hamid wrote Exit West as a way for readers to look at the refugee crisis from a different perspective. Hamid explains that borders for countries are extremely “unnatural” and the issue with migrants and refugees is that their movement is thought of as a problem that needs to be solved.[9] Hamid believes that refugees and migrants, or anyone for that matter, should be able to travel freely throughout the world.[9] Hamid also explains that reading can help people see things from a different perspective, which means that people can become more cognizant of others’ situations and see solutions they never thought possible before.[9] Hamid wrote Exit West to broaden people’s thoughts about the refugee crisis. He wanted to give readers an alternative perspective on how the people could operate in one world instead of one nation. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and his strict border policies, Hamid is trying to show readers that a world without borders is not only possible, but desirable.


Nadia and Saeed meet when they are working students in an unnamed city. Saeed is more conservative and still lives at home, as custom generally requires, but the more independent Nadia has chosen to live alone and has been disowned by her parents for doing so. Saeed and Nadia fall for each other slowly and then all at once. War speeds up their courtship, the way it seems to hasten everything.[10] After Saeed's mother is killed by a stray bullet while searching for a lost earring in her car, Nadia moves in with Saeed and his father, despite not wanting to marry Saeed as propriety requires.

As the militants successfully wrest control of the city from the government and violence becomes an every day part of life, Nadia and Saeed begin chasing rumours that there are doors in the city that serve as portals to other locations. Although most of the doors are guarded by militants, they manage to bribe their way through a door, leaving behind Saeed's father who does not wish to be a burden to them and asks Nadia to promise him never to leave Saeed until they are settled.

The door they go through takes them to Mykonos, where they are among many refugees and settle in a tent city. They eventually obtain the compassion of a local Greek girl who has a rapport with Nadia and helps the two go through a recently discovered door which leads to a luxury home in London. Nadia and Saeed and other migrants settle in the home, claiming it from its owners.

As more migrants penetrate London, hostility between the migrants and the native-born increases, including attacks and mob rule. The migrants are eventually sectioned off in a ghetto with minimal food and electricity called "Dark London." After a raid to clear out migrants goes wrong, the natives decide to try to work together with the new migrants and put them to work clearing the land for Halo London, a city surrounding London-proper, with the promise that they will be given 40 meters and a pipe i.e. a small plot of land and access to utilities. Nadia and Saeed throw themselves into the work as they feel themselves growing apart from each other.

Although the couple are on a list that puts them among the first to obtain a secure home, Nadia asks Saeed to leave through another portal and they eventually take their chance arriving in Marin County, California. They find they are generally welcome there and Nadia finds work at a food co-op while Saeed becomes more and more religious. Eventually, realizing that they no longer have any feelings for one another, Nadia leaves Saeed and moves into a room at the co-op, forming a relationship with a cook who works there. Saeed, meanwhile, marries the native-born daughter of a preacher.

Fifty years later, Nadia returns to the country of her birth and meets up with Saeed, who offers to one day take her to see the stars in Chile.



Exit West was generally well-received from critics.

Omar El Akkad in The Globe and Mail calls the novel "a masterpiece of humanity and restraint."[11] Sarah Begley of Time magazine praised its relation to the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and making a love story of refugees nevertheless feel universal.[12] The Guardian defined it as a "magical vision of the refugee crisis."[13] In December 2017, former U.S. President Barack Obama included Exit West in his list of the best books he read in 2017.[14][15]

Paste's Jeff Milo wrote that the hope of Saeed and Nadia "is kindled by rumors of mysterious doorways that transport people to undetermined locations. These doors have supernatural powers, but the way Hamid weaves his story, you’ll believe that they’re real."[16] The Harvard Crimson's Caroline E. Tew wrote, "Although it’s a short, slim book, “Exit West” packs a punch. [...] Hamid has carefully constructed a situation that poignantly accentuates the trials and tribulations of refugees."[17] Leah Greenblatt, writing for Entertainment Weekly, stated, "Hamid’s spare parable [...] took the sobering reality of a global refugee crisis to the most fantastical realm of fiction, and somehow made it all feel even more true."[18]

In the article entitled "Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West: Co-Opting Refugees into Global Capitalism," Sercan Hamza Bağlama (2019) focuses on the depoliticisation of the refugee 'crisis' and analyses the social, cultural and economic interpellation of the refugee characters into the dominant system in a western country, saying [The depoliticisation of the refugee 'crisis'] justifies the binary paradigms of the orientalist mind-set as the dichotomy of 'them' and 'us' is constructed upon the artificial binary opposition between the Orient and the Occident, leading the West to take its 'historical' responsibility, export democracy, bring order and ironically help those in a desperate situation."[19]

While Exit West received astonishing reviews, it does still have some critiques. Some scholars believe the idea of considering all humans on Earth as refugees is “wrong-headed.”[8]

Awards and honorsEdit

Exit West was a New York Times best seller,[20] and many outlets included the book in "best of" lists. Kirkus Reviews,[20] Shelf Awareness,[21] TIME,[22] and Tor.com named it one of the top ten novels of 2017, whereas Entertainment Weekly,[18] The Harvard Crimson,[17] Literary Hub,[23] and Paste[16] included it in their lists of the best books of the decade.

Awards for Exit West
Year Award Result Ref.
2017 Booker Prize Shortlist [24][25][26]
Booklist Editors' Choice: Adult Books Selection [27]
Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize Shortlist [26]
Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction Finalist [28]
Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction Winner [4][29]
Kirkus Prize Finalist [22]
National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction Finalist [30][20]
St. Francis College Literary Prize Shortlist [31]
2018 ALA Notable Books: Fiction Selection [32][33]
Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction Longlist [34]
Aspen Words Literary Prize Winner [5][6]
BSFA Award for Best Novel Shortlist [35]
Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction Finalist [36]
Rathbones Folio Prize Shortlist [37]
2019 International Dublin Literary Award Shortlist [38]


Exit West attracted much attention from scholars and readers because the novel deals so closely with current events and problematic social norms.[39] Scholars argue that Hamid is questioning the trending opinions of border security with Brexit and Trump, emphasizes the fake sense of connection to refugees through technology, and stresses the importance of preserving the global environment.

Hamid uses fiction to create a reality for readers to reconsider the “relationship between history and geography” with the use of “magical portals that allow instant access to destinations around the world”.[2] In the story, it is clear that Hamid does not support the current ideology of going backwards in the direction of past policies and “greatness” (Trump's campaign).[2] Moshin uses fictional novels to reach readers because he wants them to be creative and progressive in their ideas for solutions to current events. This will allow readers to consider the possibility of a “global migration” and “borderless world”, which essentially is the plot of Exit West.[2] Hamid helps readers empathize to refugees through the unfair experiences of the characters Nadia and Saeed.[2] Hamid wraps the novel up with a positive ending to help convey the idea that readers shouldn’t think of refugees as a problem, but more of an opportunity for an improved world.[39]

Throughout Exit West, Hamid also examines the use of digital technology and how it provides people with a false sense of connectedness.[39] Characters use tablets to remain connected to people and places throughout the world, thus failing to truly be present with the people physically around them and the places they’re in. However, the characters are also using technology to photograph, document, and share the injustice happening in the country they are from. Hamid shows readers how technology can be used to positively connect with people and places they would otherwise not be connected to while also depicting how technology can weaken relationships and make people disconnected from each other.

Similar to some of Hamid's previous novels, Exit West also hints at the importance of changing global habits and creating a cleaner environment around the world.[7] Hamid does this by emphasizing natural beauties throughout the novel and showing readers how when people have a choice and appreciation for where they live, they treat the environment with more respect.


In August 2017, it was announced that the Russo brothers had purchased the rights to adapt the novel and will serve as producers, while Morten Tyldum hired as director.[40] In March 2020, Michelle and Barack Obama came on board as producers, with Riz Ahmed playing Saeed and Yann Demange set to direct.[41]


  1. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (12 March 2017). "Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – magical vision of the refugee crisis". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Sadaf, Shazia (2 September 2020). ""We are all migrants through time": History and geography in Mohsin Hamid's Exit West". Journal of Postcolonial Writing. 56 (5): 636–647. doi:10.1080/17449855.2020.1820667. ISSN 1744-9855.
  3. ^ Gilbert, Sophie (8 March 2017). "Exit West and the Edge of Dystopia". The Atlantic. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b "L.A. Times Book Prize - Fiction". Awards Archive. Retrieved 2 March 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ a b Schaub, Michael (28 February 2022). "Finalists for Aspen Words Literary Prize Revealed". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 1 March 2022.
  6. ^ a b Arias, Patricia de (18 April 2018). "Awards: Aspen Words Literary; Neukom Institute Literary Arts". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  7. ^ a b Mączyńska, Magdalena (29 October 2020). ""People Are Monkeys Who Have Forgotten That They Are Monkeys": The Refugee as Eco-Cosmopolitan Allegory in Mohsin Hamid's Exit West". ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. 28 (3): 1089–1106. doi:10.1093/isle/isaa082. ISSN 1076-0962.
  8. ^ a b Perfect, Michael (3 April 2019). "'Black holes in the fabric of the nation': refugees in Mohsin Hamid's Exit West". Journal for Cultural Research. 23 (2): 187–201. doi:10.1080/14797585.2019.1665896. ISSN 1479-7585.
  9. ^ a b c Green, G (26 June 2017). "Moshin Hamid". New Internationalist. 46 – via Proquest.
  10. ^ "A Novel About Refugees That Feels Instantly Canonical". The New Yorker. 10 March 2017. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  11. ^ El Akkad, Omar (17 March 2017). "MHamid's Exit West, reviewed: A masterpiece of humility and restraint". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  12. ^ Begley, Sarah (20 March 2017). "Love in the Time of Refugees". Time: 56.
  13. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (12 March 2017). "Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – magical vision of the refugee crisis". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  14. ^ Savransky, Rebecca (31 December 2017). "Obama puts out list of favorite books he read, songs he listened to in 2017". The Hill.
  15. ^ Obama, Barack (31 December 2017). "During my presidency, I started a tradition of sharing my reading lists and playlists..."
  16. ^ a b Jackson, Frannie; Paste Books Staff (14 October 2019). "The 40 Best Novels of the 2010s". Paste. Retrieved 22 January 2021.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ a b Tew, Caroline E. (3 January 2020). "10 Best Books of the Past Decade | Arts | The Harvard Crimson". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 22 January 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  18. ^ a b EW Staff (25 November 2019). "Here are EW's top 10 fiction books of the decade". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 22 January 2021.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ Bağlama, Sercan Hamza. "Mohsin Hamid's Exit West: Co-Opting Refugees into Global Capitalism". New Middle Eastern Studies. 9 (2). ISSN 2051-0861.
  20. ^ a b c "Exit West". Kirkus Reviews. 6 December 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2022.
  21. ^ Block, Stefan Merrill (12 December 2017). "Our Best Adult Books of 2017". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  22. ^ a b Begley, Sarah (21 November 2017). "The Top 10 Novels of 2017". Time. Retrieved 13 December 2017.
  23. ^ Temple, Emily (23 December 2019). "The 20 Best Novels of the Decade". Literary Hub. Retrieved 22 January 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  24. ^ Flood, Alison (13 September 2017). "Man Booker prize 2017: shortlist makes room for debuts alongside big names". the Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  25. ^ "Man Booker Prize: 2017". Booklist. 25 October 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2022.
  26. ^ a b Barnett, Mac (13 September 2017). "Awards: Man Booker; NBA Young People's Lit; BPL Literary". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  27. ^ "Booklist Editors' Choice: Adult Books, 2017". Booklist. 1 January 2018. Retrieved 1 March 2022.
  28. ^ "Exit West". Goodreads. Retrieved 1 March 2022.
  29. ^ Gabel, Aja (24 April 2018). "Awards: L.A. Times Book; Green Earth Book". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  30. ^ "2017". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  31. ^ Kurt Andersen (21 August 2017). "Awards: St. Francis College Literary". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  32. ^ "2018 ALA Notable Books - Fiction Winner and Nominees". Awards Archive. 3 July 2020. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  33. ^ "Notable Books: 2018". Booklist. 1 April 2018. Retrieved 1 March 2022.
  34. ^ "2018 Winners". Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence. Reference & User Services Association (RUSA). 19 October 2020. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  35. ^ "2018 BSFA - Novel Winner and Nominees". Awards Archive. 22 March 2020. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  36. ^ "2018". Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Retrieved 2 March 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  37. ^ "2018". The Rathbones Folio Prize. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  38. ^ Bayard, Louis (5 April 2019). "Awards: Indies Choice/E.B. White; International Dublin Literary". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  39. ^ a b c Naydan, Liliana M. (22 September 2019). "DIGITAL SCREENS AND NATIONAL DIVIDES IN MOHSIN HAMID'S EXIT WEST". Studies in the Novel. 51 (3): 433–453.
  40. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. "Russo Brothers In First Look With Morten Tyldum, Acquire 'Exit West' For Him To Direct". Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  41. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony. "Russo Brothers' AGBO Partners With Obamas' Higher Ground & Netflix On 'Exit West', Riz Ahmed Attached". Retrieved 6 March 2020.