Posts Tagged Riverhead Books

book review: Exit West

exit-west

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Riverhead Books| March 7, 2017| 231 pages | $26.00| ISBN: 978-0-7352-1217-6

RATING: 4.5/5*

After finishing college, Nadia questions her faith and decides, to her family’s dismay and disdain, to move out on her own– “She secured a room of her own atop the house of a widow, a record player and small collection of vinyl, a circle of acquaintances among the city’s free spirits, and a connection to a discreet and nonjudgmental female gynecologist.” Nadia enjoys her independence as much as possible: she works at an insurance company; smokes pot and does shrooms and maintains connections through social media. She soon meets Saeed and they clandestinely date and slowly fall in love as the country and everything they know crumbles around them. They both work their different jobs during the day and meet at night at cafes and then at Nadia’s apartment. She throws down a black robe for him to put on and enter the apartment without raising suspicions or backlash about a single woman entertaining a male visitor. Slowly the country becomes less safe. Nadia and Saeed lose their jobs. Then it becomes impossible to communicate.  Author Mohsin Hamid  writes: “But one day the signal to every mobile phone in the city simply vanished, turned off as if by flipping a switch. An announcement of the government’s decision was made over television and radio, a temporary antiterrorism measure, it was said, but with no end date given. Internet connectivity was suspended as well.” Nadia and Saeed decide to escape the country as refugees.

First they land at a refugee camp in Mykonos —“It was said in those days that the passage was both like dying and like being born, and indeed Nadia experienced a kind of extinguishing as she entered the blackness and a gasping struggle as she fought to exit it, and she felt cold and bruised and damp as she lay on the floor of the room at the other side, trembling and too spent at first to stand, and she thought, while she strained to fill her lungs, that this dampness must be her own sweat.” They then move on to London –“It was here that Saeed and Nadia found themselves in those warmer months, in one of the worker camps, laboring away. 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.”  They finally end up in Marin, California– “Saeed made it a point to smile with Nadia, at least sometimes, and he hoped she would feel something warm and caring when he smiled, but what she felt was sorrow and the sense that they were better than this, and that together they had to find a way out.”

The couple drifts apart despite their best attempts to stay together. It’s an attempt to keep something familiar nearby, to keep their country in their hearts. They adapted to their new country and living situations in varied ways—Nadia relishes the personal freedom while Saeed becomes focused on religion– which makes their relationship untenable and unsustainable. A beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent novel about refugees that couldn’t be timelier. Using mystical realism, Hamid tells a potent and poetic story of love and freedom in this short novel. Lovely reflections on connectivity and choice and circumstances. Hamid beautifully contemplates very human desires to achieve, to thrive, and to share oneself in order to make sense of an often nonsensical, violent and cruel world. It’s absolutely essential reading.

–review by Amy Steele

Mohsin Hamid will be reading at Harvard Book Store on Wednesday, March 8 at 7pm.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Random House.

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Friendkeeping: book review

Friendkeeping by Julie Klam. Publisher: Riverhead Books (November 2012). Memoir. Hardcover. 240 pages. ISBN: 978-1-59448-806-1.

Julie Klam and I have a lot in common. We seem to have quite similar thoughts about work, writing, social networking and friendships. We both dislike using acronyms on the Internet. She’s the successful older sister I’ve never had. I’d like to write memoirs. She’s published three. Unlike Julie Klam, I’ve met VERY few of my twitter friends in real life. I’ve suggested meeting for coffee or a drink but most people don’t want to meet. Julie now has very close friends and colleagues in writers Ann Leary and Laura Zigman who she met through Twitter. They do a radio show on NPR called “Hash Hags” together where they interview authors. That’s a Twitter networking success story!

If you’re expecting a field guide as described on the cover of Friendkeeping, you’ll be quickly disappointed. Most of the time she comes across as rather narcissistic and selfish, but it’s her memoir and she writes as she remembers it. And she’s got the friends and maybe you don’t and are reading to find out how to keep them. This isn’t a how-to book. Klam instead tells stories of her own friendships—the long-term ones, the on-off ones, the ones met through twitter.

Friendkeeping according to Julie Klam:

On timing:

“It does help to be in the same place in life as someone you are friends with; you can be supportive to a pregnant woman when you don’t have to look back forty years to your own pregnancy, and maybe the same principle applies If you’re both working at the same place or you’re both single or both newly married or you both let four dogs sleep in your bed.”

On being yourself:

“I suddenly realized that I hadn’t been lobotomized—the person I was before I became a mother was in there. I had interests, or at the very least I was in interested in people who had interests other than children.”

From @friends to IRL:

“For me, it’s brought new like-minded friends into my fray and reconnected me with old friends I am sure I never would have found otherwise. And once we meet online, we are free to move things into the three-dimensional world.”

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FTC Disclosure: I did NOT receive this for review from the publisher.

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