Exit West

by

Mohsin Hamid

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Exit West: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
By summer, Saeed and Nadia are living in a settlement called London Halo, an area surrounding the city that used to be protected from construction by the government but is now one of many “new cities” getting built to accommodate the massive influx of refugees into England. They live and toil in a “worker camp,” sleeping in an encampment and working on constructing permanent structures for migrants. “In exchange for their labor in clearing terrain and building infrastructure and assembling dwellings from prefabricated blocks, migrants were promised forty meters and a pipe: a home on forty square meters of land and a connection to all the utilities of modernity,” Hamid writes.
When Hamid uses the phrase “forty meters and a pipe,” he references the promise made to former slaves in America in 1865, when the Union promised freedmen “forty acres and a mule” as a (largely unfulfilled) gesture of agrarian reform. By comparing Britain’s promise to this historical offer, Hamid implies that the government’s supposed magnanimity is not as altruistic as it may seem. Although Saeed and Nadia no longer must live under the threat of attack, they essentially have gone from living in a mansion to living in an encampment once again. Still, the implication here is that the government is slowly coming around to the idea of welcoming the refugee population into the country. Rather than trying to kick migrants out or force them to escape, it has begun trying to implement policies that will benefit these people, who desperately need assistance.
Themes
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There is a waitlist to live in the new buildings, and Saeed and Nadia aren’t far from the top, though first they have to help erect the lodgings. Overall, though, “existence” in Britain has become relatively safe, though Saeed and Nadia must share a single cot, where one night Nadia dreams about the volunteer from Mykonos. In the dream, she has gone back to the island, and when she wakes up, she’s “almost panting” and her body feels “alive, or alarmed, regardless changed.” Henceforth, she periodically catches herself thinking about the volunteer. Saeed, on the other hand, spends his time thinking about his father, whom he learns from a cousin has died of pneumonia. In response to this news, Saeed commits himself to working, signing up for extra shifts to keep himself busy, for he’s not sure how he should mourn.
In the same way that Saeed has redoubled his commitment to religion—praying often as a way of reconnecting with his past life—he now seeks to distract himself from the grief of having lost his father. In this period, then, work becomes an escape from having to deal with his emotions. And as he retreats into himself in this way, Nadia also withdraws from their relationship by fantasizing about the volunteer from Mykonos. As such, Hamid showcases the ways these characters find to escape their lives and troubles, illustrating that—unfortunately—this kind of escape no longer can be found in their relationship.
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Nadia is also deeply affected by the passing of Saeed’s father, but she isn’t sure how to express it. Her attempts to talk to Saeed about it fail, since she doesn’t know what to say and Saeed himself remains quiet. Because of this dynamic, she finds herself relieved when she’s working her shift because it means she isn’t with Saeed—a feeling that startles her and makes her feel guilty. When Saeed gathers a group of people to pray for his father, Nadia comes to join the circle, even if only to sit there in solidarity. In response, Saeed tells her she doesn’t need to be there, but she insists on staying. As they pray, though, she feels “for the first time unwelcome. Or perhaps unengaged. Or perhaps both.” 
By praying, Saeed indulges his desire to escape not only the grief he feels in response to his father’s death, but also the unfavorable circumstances of his everyday life. Unfortunately, his relationship with Nadia is in large part responsible for the discontent he feels with his life, so when she offers to participate in his prayers, he’s naturally hesitant to embrace her presence. This is why she feels “unwelcome” and “unengaged”—yet another sign that she and Saeed have drifted from one another.
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Related Quotes
Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, a man lounges on his balcony overlooking a courtyard with beautiful plants. Rolling a cigarette, he thinks about his former lover—who has left him—and sees another old man coming out of the courtyard’s gardening shed. This second man (dressed in tropical clothing) walks around the courtyard, circles back to the shed, turns, doffs his hat to the smoking man, and disappears again into the shed. This scene repeats the following day, but this time the smoking man raises a glass of wine to him. On the third day, the smoking man invites the traveler up for a drink, and even though the smoking man doesn’t speak Portuguese and the traveler doesn’t speak Dutch, they have a wonderful time, eventually sharing a kiss that one of the neighbors—a photographer—accidentally captures on camera, though she deletes it for their sake.
Once again, Hamid includes a vignette in which the doors bring people together, this time sparking an unlikely romantic connection. And this isn’t the only kind of connection at play in this short set-piece; when the smoking man’s neighbor catches the couple’s first kiss on her camera, she is momentarily part of their budding relationship, fleetingly bound to them by circumstance and simultaneity. 
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As Nadia and Saeed both become more and more involved with their respective crews at work, they drift further and further apart. Indeed, they hardly even touch on their single cot. “They put their lack of conversation down to exhaustion,” Hamid explains, “for by the end of the day they were usually so tired they could barely speak.” Instead of spending time with one another, they pay attention to their phones, because “phones themselves have the innate power of distancing one from one’s physical surroundings.”
Hamid’s assertion that phones have the “innate power of distancing one from one’s physical surroundings” recalls Saeed’s original resistance to his phone’s alluring qualities. Although the internet enables these migrants to connect to places and people far, far away, it also gives them an excuse to avoid talking to each other, ultimately driving them apart and building an invisible boundary between them.
Themes
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Borders, Division, and Fear Theme Icon
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Hamid asserts that whenever a couple moves, “they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently.” This, it seems, has happened to Saeed and Nadia. In the context of the worker camp, Nadia notices that Saeed has grown even more handsome, so handsome that other women gaze at him as he passes. And yet, Nadia herself is “strangely unmoved by his handsomeness.” He also prays on a regular basis, sometimes up to three times per day. But when he talks to Nadia, he only references work and politics, never divulging anything about his feelings or about how he misses his parents. Still, he finds himself gravitating toward people from his country, and Nadia begins to think that the farther they get from home, the more Saeed tries to “strengthen his connection to it.” 
In this section, Nadia and Saeed continue to grow apart, their bond deteriorating as each one gravitates to separate ways of living in the worker camp. Yet again, Saeed’s commitment to religion and prayer seemingly isolates Nadia, who apparently doesn’t understand his invigorated interest in spirituality or even his desire to surround himself with people from their home country. Once more, then, Hamid shows the toll that migration has exacted upon Saeed and Nadia’s relationship, which was apparently not strong enough to endure such seismic change.
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Related Quotes
Saeed also considers Nadia in this new context, finding that she looks the same, though perhaps more tired. Still, she continues to wear her black robes, a fact that begins to annoy him, since she doesn’t even pray, actively avoids speaking their shared language, and even goes out of her way to not spend time with “their people.” “Well take it off then!” he wants to shout, but this is a sentiment that makes him feel guilty and angry with himself, since he knows he’s supposed to love—and thus respect—her. He wants more than anything to love Nadia the way he used to, but he can’t seem to do this, an idea that leaves him feeling “unmoored, adrift in a world where one could go anywhere but still find nothing.”
When Saeed feels the urge to yell at Nadia to take off her robes, he displays a certain protectiveness of his home culture, as if Nadia is somehow appropriating customs that no longer belong to her because she hasn’t remained loyal to their country’s way of life. Of course, he feels this way because he himself has become so much more invested in living like he’s still in the city of his birth. Furthermore, he feels “unmoored” when he thinks about his waning love for Nadia because she has essentially become his only extant family member, the only person who can connect him to his past. As such, thinking of life without her means considering an existence outside the framework of everything he’s ever known.
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Given the nature of their shifting relationship, Nadia suggests one day “under the drone-crossed sky” that she and Saeed leave behind the worker camp. She tells him she’s heard of a door that takes people to Marin, California, a place settled in the hills outside San Francisco. To her surprise, he instantly agrees, hoping that in this new place they’ll be able to “rekindle their relationship, to reconnect with their relationship, […] and to elude, through a distance spanning a third of the globe, what it seem[s] in danger of becoming.” 
Saeed’s immediate agreement to travel to Marin reveals his belief that migration will help him salvage his relationship to Nadia. This is a strange belief, considering that their relationship only started faltering once they left home (though it’s worth noting that migration only brought out and highlighted opposing qualities in each of them that already existed). Still, both he and Nadia clearly hope that by going to Marin they’ll be able to escape the deterioration of their love—an obviously unlikely scenario.
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