Date read: 09 August 2017
Published by Random House Penguin/ Riverhead, 2017
Verdict: Prose so brilliant I would read his shopping list.
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.
This was beautiful, stunning, memorable, and really special; an anti-war and pro-tolerance piece with a human heart. Mohsin Hamid never loses sight of the important factors of his story: his characters and their interactions; he doesn’t stray from the emotional heart of this story to make a point; and he writes with a precision and beauty that is absolutely breath-taking.
This is Nadia’s and Saeed’s story; from their first meeting in an unnamed muslim country on the brink of civil war, to their subsequent journey to places that are hopefully safer. These two form and their ill-timed relationship are the core of this novel.
Mohsin Hamid uses his brilliant premise (what if there were suddenly doors all over the world leading to other places?) to explore the emotional impact of being a refugee instead of the logistical impact. He can ignore the hardships of travelling over land to other countries that are safer, to focus instead of the intimate experience of being foreign – of being a stranger in a strange land without having wanted to be that. I adored this. I thought this focus worked really well and made this story something really special.
He has a unique way of structuring his sentences that I found beyond brilliant. He made me reread sentences and reread passages. This is where this book truly shines: It is unbelievably beautifully written and breathtakingly structured. His command of his story-telling voice is beyond impressive. While I thought his characters were vividly painted and their relationship believable and heartbreaking, they are not what I will keep remembering. But I think that is ok – because while their story humanizes the book, it is both universal and personal in a way that kind of renders the characters irrelevant in the broader scope of the work.
First sentence: “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 with her.”
Booker Longlist Thoughts:
I think this might be the winner in the end – and I would be perfectly fine with that.