Exit West

by

Mohsin Hamid

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Saeed Character Analysis

A young man living in an unnamed country that is undergoing a gradual but dangerous transformation at the outset of the novel as religious militants increasingly take control in a violent fight against the government. Saeed lives with his parents in an apartment in what used to be a desirable part of town, but which is now deteriorating amidst the violence ravaging the rest of the city. Working during the day at an agency that sells outdoor advertisements, Saeed attends a business course in the evenings, where he meets Nadia. After watching her in class, he asks her to coffee despite the fact that her long black robes suggest she’s highly religious and thus uninterested in dating people like Saeed, who only prays occasionally. What he soon learns, though, is that he’s actually more religious than Nadia. While she wears the robes not from religious feeling but to ensure that no one messes with her, he believes prayer is “personal” and that religious practice varies from individual to individual—an idea that allows him to increase or decrease his level of spiritual commitment as he sees fit. In their home country, this mild difference produces little friction. But after the two of them fall in love and flee their increasingly violent and dangerous country for first Mykonos, then London, and finally California, Saeed becomes increasingly more devout. Over the course of the couple’s travels, he begins to pray multiple times per day as a way of connecting to the past life and the family—both his dead mother and his father who refused to flee—that he’s left behind. And, further, he seems to blame his relationship for the feelings of loss he experiences in regards to that lost home. This behavior grates on Nadia, who thinks Saeed is too resistant to change and overly obsessed with his native culture, and so they eventually go their separate ways. Ultimately, Saeed fully engages with his desire to reconnect with his homeland by falling in love with a preacher’s daughter whose own dead mother hailed from Saeed’s original home city.

Saeed Quotes in Exit West

The Exit West quotes below are all either spoken by Saeed or refer to Saeed. 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:

It was the sort of view that might command a slight premium during gentler, more prosperous times, but would be most undesirable in times of conflict, when it would be squarely in the path of heavy machine-gun and rocket fire as fighters advanced into this part of town: a view like staring down the barrel of a rifle. Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians.

Related Characters: Saeed, Saeed’s Father, Saeed’s Mother
Page Number: 11
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:
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:

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

Saeed Character Timeline in Exit West

The timeline below shows where the character Saeed 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... (full context)
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...our errands as usual and the 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... (full context)
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Saeed stammers to find an excuse, telling Nadia that he doesn’t always get around to praying... (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... (full context)
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As Saeed’s sales pitch makes its way through the internet, a married woman sleeps in a wealthy... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Saeed goes to a bakery to get bread for dinner, which he will have with his... (full context)
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Saeed and his parents live in a small apartment in a building that used to be... (full context)
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Saeed’s mother and father met at a movie theater when they were Saeed’s age. Seeing his... (full context)
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Saeed’s family keeps a telescope in the living room. This telescope was passed down from Saeed’s... (full context)
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On the same day that Saeed sends his pitch to the local soap company, the family sits on the balcony in... (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... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...a widow. One day, while absentmindedly drawing at work, she receives an instant message from Saeed, who asks if she wants to get dinner. That night, they visit a Chinese restaurant... (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 make that... (full context)
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...can’t have men over, a problem she circumvents by going upstairs and dropping down to Saeed a key wrapped in a black robe, which he puts on and uses to cover... (full context)
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...her cousin’s death only after his funeral, she plans to visit the graveyard alone, but Saeed accompanies her. As Nadia stands above the grave, Saeed prays, and though Nadia doesn’t join... (full context)
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...of her conservative robes, Nadia enjoys a casual and active sex life. When she and Saeed start getting to know one another, she decides to cut things off with a musician... (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... (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 light next to a man who... (full context)
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...city’s stock exchange. While Nadia follows the conflict on TV with her coworkers, she texts Saeed about the unfolding horror. By afternoon, the government descends upon the exchange in full force,... (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 onto the... (full context)
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They take the mushrooms, but after a while, Saeed still feels nothing and determines he must be immune to their effects. Because of this... (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,... (full context)
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While Saeed and Nadia are high on mushrooms, Saeed’s phone dies, meaning that his parents are unable... (full context)
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...installs checkpoints with razor wire and “infantry fighting vehicles.” On the first Friday of curfew, Saeed goes with his father to a communal prayer while his mother stays and prays at... (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 fled themselves,... (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 travel impossible.... (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... (full context)
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...to do 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... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Saeed and Nadia suddenly have no way to connect, since their evening class has ended. Saeed... (full context)
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...bruised and frightened and furious, and the man, who ha[s] been waiting all day, [is] Saeed.”  (full context)
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Upstairs, Nadia tries again to convince Saeed to have sex with her, “not because she [feels] particularly sexy but because she [wants]... (full context)
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As Saeed ventures home, a “brave man” not far from Nadia’s neighborhood stands in the light of... (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... (full context)
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...to come,” Hamid writes. As such, people put couches and other furniture against the windows. Saeed’s family does just this, rearranging the furniture so that Saeed’s bed blocks the tallest windows... (full context)
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Each morning, Saeed and Nadia wake up in their separate apartments and peer at the nearest doors. Unfortunately,... (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed spend more time together now that they don’t have jobs, and Saeed suggests that Nadia... (full context)
Chapter 5
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The usual funeral and formal grieving process for Saeed’s mother is truncated by the city’s dangerous circumstances. The relatives who visit do so only... (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... (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... (full context)
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...executions occur frequently as the militants cement their control over the city. Amidst the horror, Saeed’s father travels every day to his brother’s house, where he sits with other old men... (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed resolve to find a passage out of the city. One of their friends puts them... (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... (full context)
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Saeed and Nadia are forced to go to the bathroom outside in trenches now, and Nadia’s... (full context)
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...continue to be, more comfortable with all varieties of movement in her life than was Saeed, in whom the impulse of nostalgia was stronger,” Hamid notes. Still neither Saeed nor Nadia... (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,... (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... (full context)
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When Saeed and Nadia are called into the dentist’s office, the agent stands before a black door... (full context)
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...other side, where she lies cold and sore on a bathroom floor. Right behind her, Saeed fights to come through. As he does so, Nadia looks around and sees that they... (full context)
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Saeed and Nadia go outside, emerging between two small buildings and feeling a cool breeze on... (full context)
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...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 that they’ve... (full context)
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...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, “from sweaters... (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed buy water, food, a blanket, a backpack, a tent, and local service for their cellphones.... (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... (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed wake up in their cramped tent one morning and hear people running out of the... (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 they otherwise... (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... (full context)
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Because money is tight, Saeed obtains a fishing rod to help them supplement their meals. One evening, he and Nadia... (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 Nadia’s arm... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Saeed and Nadia fight their way into a beautiful bedroom with a dazzling view of the... (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... (full context)
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...around her body and another on her head, “prepared to let the little confrontation” with Saeed go. But then he opens his mouth, saying, “You can’t stand here like that.” In... (full context)
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...a call to prayer and finds herself disoriented and wondering where she is, especially as Saeed gets out of bed to pray. (full context)
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Nadia and Saeed react differently to living in the mansion with the other refugees. For Nadia, the experience... (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.... (full context)
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...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 angry nativists,... (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,... (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... (full context)
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Unlike Nadia, Saeed is uncomfortable in the mansion, disliking the fact that he’s the sole male representative of... (full context)
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Saeed discovers that a neighboring mansion is full of people from his country, so he begins... (full context)
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That night, Saeed tells Nadia what the bearded man said, framing it as “good news.” Nadia, though, is... (full context)
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...nonviolently, but Nadia remains unsure if this is the best idea, suspicious about surrendering completely. Saeed feels similarly, though he listens to the bearded man deliver a much different message to... (full context)
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The bearded man gives Saeed a pistol from the house, which is full of guns. “In his heart he would... (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... (full context)
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As Saeed and Nadia wait fretfully for the nativist attack, a woman emerges through a door in... (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... (full context)
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...to attack 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... (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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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As Nadia and Saeed both become more and more involved with their respective crews at work, they drift further... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Saeed also considers Nadia in this new context, finding that she looks the same, though perhaps... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Saeed and Nadia settle high in the hills of Marin, above the encampments of other refugees... (full context)
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...night, Nadia obtains weed from a coworker. Hiking home, she realizes she doesn’t know how Saeed will react—of course, they’ve smoked joints before, but so much has changed since then, and... (full context)
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Saeed rolls a joint as Nadia inwardly rejoices, giddy at his positive reaction. Smoking the joint,... (full context)
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...people who descend from those “brought from Africa to this continent centuries ago as slaves.” Saeed gets to know one such person who leads a communal prayer at a local place... (full context)
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...preacher runs a shelter staffed by volunteers that feeds people and teaches English. Before long, Saeed joins the organization and works with the preacher’s daughter, to whom he avoids speaking because... (full context)
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Saeed prays often throughout the day. For him, prayer is a way to “touch” his parents,... (full context)
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Part of why Saeed prays is because it feels like a way of restoring to humanity a sense of... (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... (full context)
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As Saeed and Nadia grow apart, Hamid describes an old woman living in Palo Alto in the... (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 in a cloud of smoke. When she... (full context)
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Fortunately, Saeed and Nadia both agree that it’s better to part ways now, before their union turns... (full context)
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...at a musical event and, after their initial conversations that night, they start dating. Meanwhile, Saeed grows closer to the preacher’s daughter, who finds in him “an attitude to faith that... (full context)
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...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 the maid... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...home city for the first time in the “half a century” after she last saw Saeed. “The fires she had witnessed in her youth” have now “burned themselves out,” and she... (full context)
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...how different it would be if I had agreed to have sex with you,” responds Saeed, to which Nadia says, “We were having sex.” After a moment, Saeed smiles and concedes,... (full context)