Exit West

by

Mohsin Hamid

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A young woman from the same unnamed country and city as Saeed. She attends the same night class as Saeed, who asks on their first date why she wears religious robes if she doesn’t pray. “So men don’t fuck with me,” she responds, smiling. This is a perfect representation of Nadia’s way of navigating the world: in order to control how others treat her, she uses cultural touchstones to her advantage, a practice that shows her sense that a person’s cultural identity is malleable, not fixed by his or her citizenship or beliefs. For Nadia, it is not belief or belonging that are important, but rather her independence and autonomy. As she and Saeed travel as refugees from country to country, Nadia becomes increasingly excited about the changes they experience, ultimately embracing the multi-cultural nature of migrant communities, while Saeed retreats into himself and searches for ways to reconnect with his home culture. As a result the love she shares with Saeed begins to wane, and Nadia finds herself drawn to others, including a female volunteer who treats her wounded arm while she and Saeed are living in Mykonos. Eventually, Nadia suggests that she and Saeed break up, and when she finally leaves him standing in their shanty in California, she feels dazzlingly “alive,” ready to branch out on her own.

Nadia Quotes in Exit West

The Exit West quotes below are all either spoken by Nadia or refer to Nadia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Connection Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead Books edition of Exit West published in 2018.
Chapter 1 Quotes

His name was Saeed and her name was Nadia and he had a beard, not a full beard, more a studiously maintained stubble, and she was always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe. Back then people continued to enjoy the luxury of wearing more or less what they wanted to wear, clothing and hair wise, within certain bounds of course, and so these choices meant something.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

Refugees had occupied many of the open places in the city, pitching tents in the greenbelts between roads, erecting lean-tos next to the boundary walls of houses, sleeping rough on sidewalks and in the margins of streets. Some seemed to be trying to re-create the rhythms of a normal life, as though it were completely natural to be residing, a family of four, under a sheet of plastic propped up with branches and a few chipped bricks. Others stared out at the city with what looked like anger, or surprise, or supplication, or envy. Others didn’t move at all: stunned, maybe, or resting. Possibly dying. Saeed and Nadia had to be careful when making turns not to run over an outstretched arm or leg.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

In times of violence, there is always that first acquaintance or intimate of ours, who, when they are touched, makes what had seemed like a bad dream suddenly, evisceratingly real. For Nadia this person was her cousin, a man of considerable determination and intellect, who even when he was young had never cared much for play, who seemed to laugh only rarely, who had won medals in school and decided to become a doctor, who had successfully emigrated abroad, who returned once a year to visit his parents, and who, along with eighty-five others, was blown by a truck bomb to bits, literally to bits, the largest of which, in Nadia’s cousin’s case, were a head and two-thirds of an arm.

Related Characters: Nadia
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Nadia and Saeed were, back then, always in possession of their phones. In their phones were antennas, and these antennas sniffed out an invisible world, as if by magic, a world that was all around them, and also nowhere, transporting them to places distant and near, and to places that had never been and would never be.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Related Symbols: Cellphones
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Saeed was certain he was in love. Nadia was not certain what exactly she was feeling, but she was certain it had force. Dramatic circumstances, such as those in which they and other new lovers in the city now found themselves, have a habit of creating dramatic emotions, and furthermore the curfew served to conjure up an effect similar to that of a long-distance relationship, and long-distance relationships are well known for their potential to heighten passion, at least for a while, just as fasting is well known to heighten one’s appreciation for food.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

Saeed’s father encountered each day objects that had belonged to his wife and so would sweep his consciousness out of the current others referred to as the present, a photograph or an earring or a particular shawl worn on a particular occasion, and Nadia encountered each day objects that took her into Saeed’s past, a book or a music collection or a sticker on the inside of a drawer, and evoked emotions from her own childhood, and jagged musings on the fate of her parents and her sister, and Saeed, for his part, was inhabiting a chamber that had been his only briefly, years ago, when relatives from afar or abroad used to come to visit, and being billeted here again conjured up for him echoes of a better era, and so in these several ways these three people sharing this one apartment splashed and intersected with each other across varied and multiple streams of time.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia, Saeed’s Father, Saeed’s Mother
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

It might seem surprising that even in such circumstances Saeed’s and Nadia’s attitudes towards finding a way out were not entirely straightforward. Saeed desperately wanted to leave his city, in a sense he always had, but in his imagination he had thought he would leave it only temporarily, never once and for all, and this looming potential departure was altogether different, for he doubted he would come back, and the scattering of his extended family and his circle of friends and acquaintances, forever, struck him as deeply sad, as amounting to the loss of a home, no less, of his home.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Nadia was possibly even more feverishly keen to depart, and her nature was such that the prospect of something new, of change, was at its most basic level exciting to her. But she was haunted by worries too, revolving around dependence, worries that in going abroad and leaving their country she and Saeed and Saeed’s father might be at the mercy of strangers, subsistent on handouts, caged in pens like vermin.

Nadia had long been, and would afterwards continue to be, more comfortable with all varieties of movement in her life than was Saeed, in whom the impulse of nostalgia was stronger, perhaps because his childhood had been more idyllic, or perhaps because this was simply his temperament.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

[I]t was an easy promise to make because she had at that time no thoughts of leaving Saeed, but it was also a difficult one because in making it she felt she was abandoning the old man, and even if he did have his siblings and his cousins, and might now go live with them or have them come live with him, they could not protect him as Saeed and Nadia could, and so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, but that is the way of things, for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia, Saeed’s Father, Saeed’s Mother
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

In the late afternoon, Saeed went to the top of the hill, and Nadia went to the top of the hill, and there they gazed out over the island, and out to sea, and he stood beside where she stood, and she stood beside where he stood, and the wind tugged and pushed at their hair, and they looked around at each other, but they did not see each other, for she went up before him, and he went up after her, and they were each at the crest of the hill only briefly, and at different times.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

The residents of the house were terrified, most had seen firsthand what the police and soldiers could do, and in their terror they spoke more to one another than they otherwise might, strangers speaking to strangers. A sort of camaraderie evolved, as it might not have had they been on the street, in the open, for then they would likely have scattered, and the devil take the hindmost, but here they were penned in together, and being penned in made them into a grouping, a group.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

From dark London, Saeed and Nadia wondered what life must be like in light London, where they imagined people dined in elegant restaurants and rode in shiny black cabs, or at least went to work in offices and shops and were free to journey about as they pleased. In dark London, rubbish accrued, uncollected, and underground stations were sealed. The trains kept running, skipping stops near Saeed and Nadia but felt as a rumble beneath their feet and heard at a low, powerful frequency, almost subsonic, like thunder or the detonation of a massive, distant bomb.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Together in this group they conversed in a language that was built in large part from English, but not solely from English, and some of them were in any case more familiar with English than were others. Also they spoke different variations of English, different Englishes, and so when Nadia gave voice to an idea or opinion among them, she did not need to fear that her views could not be comprehended, for her English was like theirs, one among many.

Related Characters: Nadia
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Saeed for his part wished he could do something for Nadia, could protect her from what would come, even if he understood, at some level, that to love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you. He thought she deserved better than this, but he could see no way out, for they had decided not to run, not to play roulette with yet another departure. To flee forever is beyond the capacity of most: at some point even a hunted animal will stop, exhausted and await its fate, if only for a while.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Saeed did not ask Nadia to pray with him for his father, and she did not offer, but when he was gathering a circle of acquaintances to pray in the long evening shadow cast by their dormitory, she said she would like to join the circle, to sit with Saeed and the others, even if not engaged in supplication herself, and he smiled and said there was no need. And she had no answer to this. But she stayed anyway, next to Saeed on the naked earth that had been stripped of plants by hundreds of thousands of footsteps and rutted by the tires of ponderously heavy vehicles, feeling for the first time unwelcome. Or perhaps unengaged. Or perhaps both.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attention is still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable color, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us. So it was with Saeed and Nadia, who found themselves changed in each other’s eyes in this new place.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Now, though, in Marin, Saeed prayed even more, several times a day, and he prayed fundamentally as a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way. When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope, but he felt that he could not express this to Nadia, that he did not know how to express this to Nadia, this mystery that prayer linked him to, and it was so important to express it.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

But while fear was part of what kept them together for those first few months in Marin, more powerful than fear was the desire that each see the other find firmer footing before they let go, and thus in the end their relationship did in some senses come to resemble that of siblings, in that friendship was its strongest element, and unlike many passions, theirs managed to cool slowly, without curdling into its reverse, anger, except intermittently.

Related Characters: Saeed, Nadia
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Exit West LitChart as a printable PDF.
Exit West PDF

Nadia Character Timeline in Exit West

The timeline below shows where the character Nadia appears in Exit West. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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In a city “swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace,” Saeed and Nadia meet for the first time while taking a course on “corporate identity and product branding.”... (full context)
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...next we are dying.” Sitting in class one day, Saeed notices a beauty mark on Nadia’s neck that sometimes dances with the pulse of her heart, and this encourages him to... (full context)
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Saeed stammers to find an excuse, telling Nadia that he doesn’t always get around to praying but that nobody’s perfect. “I think it’s... (full context)
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After their confusing conversation about prayer, Saeed can’t stop thinking about Nadia. The next day, he finds himself distracted at work, unable to write a sales pitch... (full context)
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...shared together,” notes Hamid, “the year that was already well under way when Saeed met Nadia, they had sex only thrice.” As for the cinema where they met, it has been... (full context)
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When they finally get coffee, Saeed asks Nadia why she wears long black robes even though she doesn’t pray. Both of their phones... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Nadia grew up in a devoutly religious house where the walls were lined by excerpts of... (full context)
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These days, Nadia works at an insurance company and lives alone in an apartment above her landlord, a... (full context)
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When the meal is over, Nadia invites Saeed to her house. “Nothing is going to happen,” she states. “I want to... (full context)
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When Nadia obtained her apartment, she told her widowed landlord that she too was a widow, claiming... (full context)
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...when they are touched, makes what had seemed like a bad dream suddenly, eviscerating real.” Nadia discovers this for herself when her cousin is “blown by a truck bomb to bits,... (full context)
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Contrary to what people might think because of her conservative robes, Nadia enjoys a casual and active sex life. When she and Saeed start getting to know... (full context)
Chapter 3
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While Saeed uses his phone quite often to contact Nadia, he limits himself when it comes to browsing the internet. For him, the virtual world... (full context)
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The day before Nadia receives her mushrooms—which she and Saeed will take together—she finds herself trapped at a red... (full context)
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The day Nadia’s shrooms arrive, militant radicals take siege of the city’s stock exchange. While Nadia follows the... (full context)
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Once inside Nadia’s house, Saeed puts food in the oven so that it’ll stay warm. They then go... (full context)
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...a “feeling of awe” washes over him as he regards the small lemon tree on Nadia’s balcony. Floored by the thought of the tree’s roots in the clay pot and the... (full context)
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Thinking this way, Saeed turns his attention to Nadia and sees that she’s looking back at him. Her eyes, he thinks, are like great... (full context)
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While Saeed and Nadia are high on mushrooms, Saeed’s phone dies, meaning that his parents are unable to reach... (full context)
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Work slows down for both Nadia and Saeed because so many clients are fleeing the country. Nadia’s two bosses have even... (full context)
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For the first two weeks of the curfew, Nadia and Saeed don’t see each other on the weekends because fighting between their neighborhoods makes... (full context)
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Lying in bed together, Saeed shows Nadia photos on his phone of famous city skylines with all the lights turned off and... (full context)
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...this as a “temporary antiterrorism measure.” Worse, internet service also disappears. Because neither Saeed nor Nadia have working landlines, they suddenly find themselves cut off from one another, “deprived of the... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Saeed and Nadia suddenly have no way to connect, since their evening class has ended. Saeed calls all... (full context)
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Unable to move her arms, Nadia can only squeeze her legs shut, “her body sealing itself off” as the crowd lurches... (full context)
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Upstairs, Nadia tries again to convince Saeed to have sex with her, “not because she [feels] particularly... (full context)
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As Saeed ventures home, a “brave man” not far from Nadia’s neighborhood stands in the light of his phone’s flashlight listening to the same gunshots as... (full context)
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Radical militants continue to ravage Saeed and Nadia’s city. One day when Nadia passes her family’s house, she sees that it looks deserted... (full context)
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Each morning, Saeed and Nadia wake up in their separate apartments and peer at the nearest doors. Unfortunately, these doors... (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed spend more time together now that they don’t have jobs, and Saeed suggests... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...do so only briefly, since it’s risky to travel through the streets. During these visits, Nadia busies herself with serving the guests, and nobody asks about the nature of her relationship... (full context)
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Saeed and Nadia return to Nadia’s apartment to gather her belongings, taking with them—among other things—her record player... (full context)
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Horrified at the violence all around them, Saeed and Nadia start to transgress against their own agreement to remain chaste in his father’s apartment. Each... (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed resolve to find a passage out of the city. One of their friends... (full context)
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While Saeed and Nadia wait to hear back from the agent—who’s busy searching for a new unguarded door—many people... (full context)
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Saeed and Nadia are forced to go to the bathroom outside in trenches now, and Nadia’s lemon tree... (full context)
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Nadia had always been, and would afterwards continue to be, more comfortable with all varieties of... (full context)
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After convincing his son to let him stay, Saeed’s father calls Nadia to his room and says he’s “entrusting her with his son’s life, and she, whom... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Saeed’s father says his farewell to his son and Nadia the following day, leaving the house without telling them where he’s going so that they... (full context)
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When Saeed and Nadia are called into the dentist’s office, the agent stands before a black door that used... (full context)
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...that the passage was both like dying and being born,” Hamid writes. This is what Nadia feels as she moves through the blackness, “gasping” and “struggle[ing]” to emerge on the other... (full context)
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Saeed and Nadia go outside, emerging between two small buildings and feeling a cool breeze on their faces... (full context)
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...group, everyone was foreign,” writes Hamid, “and so, in a sense, no one was.” Nonetheless, Nadia and Saeed still seek out a group of “fellow countrywomen and –men,” who tell them... (full context)
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...camp itself runs primarily on bartering, like a “trading post in an old-time gold rush.” Nadia and Saeed learn from their fellow expatriates that almost anything is attainable in this settlement,... (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed buy water, food, a blanket, a backpack, a tent, and local service for... (full context)
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Meanwhile, a young woman comes home from work in Vienna. Apparently, militants from Saeed and Nadia’s country entered the city the previous week, shooting Austrians to “provoke a reaction against migrants... (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed wake up in their cramped tent one morning and hear people running out... (full context)
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To fight off the boredom of life in the camp, Nadia and Saeed decide to explore the island. Sometimes they see sinister groups of men, but... (full context)
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During this time, Saeed asks Nadia why she still wears her black robes even though they are no longer in a... (full context)
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...Saeed obtains a fishing rod to help them supplement their meals. One evening, he and Nadia are fishing after dark when they see a group of men moving toward them. They... (full context)
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As spring arrives in Mykonos, Nadia and Saeed visit a health clinic in town, where a nineteen-year-old volunteer cleans and dresses... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Saeed and Nadia fight their way into a beautiful bedroom with a dazzling view of the city skyline... (full context)
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Responding to this onslaught of new arrivals, Saeed and Nadia claim a bedroom on the first floor with a balcony from which they can jump... (full context)
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When Nadia shuts the bathroom door again, “the extraordinary satisfactions of the steamy bathroom” have “evaporated.” Upon... (full context)
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...and chants in many different languages until the police relent and withdraw. The next morning, Nadia is awoken by a call to prayer and finds herself disoriented and wondering where she... (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed react differently to living in the mansion with the other refugees. For Nadia,... (full context)
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One night, the mansion comes under attack by a nativist mob. Saeed and Nadia are just returning from having eaten out, and they each sustain minor injuries. Apparently, riots... (full context)
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...the city that a massive plan is in the works to reclaim London for Englanders. Nadia and Saeed learn that the effort will be executed by both law enforcement officials and... (full context)
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Despite various volunteer efforts and aid from sympathetic Londoners, Saeed and Nadia can’t help but recognize the pre-conflict feeling presiding over London. During this time, they see... (full context)
Chapter 8
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With the lights out in Saeed and Nadia’s portion of the city, “murders and rapes and assaults” take place. Although some blame the... (full context)
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At first, Nadia has trouble following what takes place during the council meetings, but eventually she’s able to... (full context)
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Nadia begins to look forward to council meetings because they represent “something new in her mind,... (full context)
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Unlike Nadia, Saeed is uncomfortable in the mansion, disliking the fact that he’s the sole male representative... (full context)
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One evening, while Nadia is in the courtyard with the council, Saeed is stopped in the hallway by the... (full context)
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...such, Saeed feels “accepted by this house” and asks the bearded man if he and Nadia can come live with them. The bearded man says yes, though they’ll have to stay... (full context)
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That night, Saeed tells Nadia what the bearded man said, framing it as “good news.” Nadia, though, is perplexed. “Why... (full context)
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...back when the confrontation takes place. The group decides to handle the situation nonviolently, but Nadia remains unsure if this is the best idea, suspicious about surrendering completely. Saeed feels similarly,... (full context)
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...Nigerians, his own neighbors,” Hamid notes. Undressing that night, Saeed doesn’t conceal the pistol from Nadia, who sees it and says nothing. When he gets into bed, they reach for each... (full context)
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Certain migrants find ways to siphon energy to charge phones, enabling Saeed and Nadia to read the news. For Nadia, this is an unsettling experience because there’s so much... (full context)
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As Saeed and Nadia wait fretfully for the nativist attack, a woman emerges through a door in a cantina... (full context)
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When the raid on the “migrant ghetto in which Saeed and Nadia [find] themselves” begins, an officer is immediately shot in the leg, exacerbating tensions so that... (full context)
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...when afraid.” Electricity and water is restored to all areas of London, and Saeed and Nadia—along with their housemates and neighbors—celebrate this good fortune. (full context)
Chapter 9
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By summer, Saeed and Nadia are living in a settlement called London Halo, an area surrounding the city that used... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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Nadia is also deeply affected by the passing of Saeed’s father, but she isn’t sure how... (full context)
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As Nadia and Saeed both become more and more involved with their respective crews at work, they... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Saeed also considers Nadia in this new context, finding that she looks the same, though perhaps more tired. Still,... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Saeed and Nadia settle high in the hills of Marin, above the encampments of other refugees who came... (full context)
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One night, Nadia obtains weed from a coworker. Hiking home, she realizes she doesn’t know how Saeed will... (full context)
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Saeed rolls a joint as Nadia inwardly rejoices, giddy at his positive reaction. Smoking the joint, she realizes that American weed... (full context)
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...breath seizes when he looks upon her beauty, a reaction that makes him feel guilty. “Nadia perceived the presence of this woman not in the form of a distancing by Saeed,... (full context)
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...as a consolation, and as a hope.” However, he feels incapable of expressing this to Nadia, despite how important it is to communicate “this mystery that prayer link[s] him to,” which... (full context)
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Neither Saeed nor Nadia talk about the fact that they’re “drifting apart,” since they don’t want to “inflict a... (full context)
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As Saeed and Nadia grow apart, Hamid describes an old woman living in Palo Alto in the same house... (full context)
Chapter 11
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While smoking a joint one night, Nadia nonchalantly suggests that she move out. Saeed doesn’t say anything as he watches her hold... (full context)
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Fortunately, Saeed and Nadia both agree that it’s better to part ways now, before their union turns ugly. As... (full context)
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Nadia secures a room above the food cooperative where she works, which is open to migrants... (full context)
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In the aftermath of the tattooed man’s presence, Nadia’s coworkers begin to embrace her, either because they’re “impressed by her mettle in the face... (full context)
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Nadia sees the head cook from her food cooperative at a musical event and, after their... (full context)
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...attention of men. When the maid’s daughter comes to visit during the same summer of Nadia and Saeed’s breakup, the young woman tries to convince her mother to leave Marrakesh, but... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Nadia goes back to her home city for the first time in the “half a century”... (full context)
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“Imagine how different life would be if I had agreed to marry you,” Nadia says. “Imagine how different it would be if I had agreed to have sex with... (full context)