Lon­don is un­der mil­i­tary lock­down and split, like Homs or Aleppo, into elec­tri­fied and dark zones. Hyde Park is a refugee camp over­flown by swarms of drones

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cri­sis we’ve al­ready wit­nessed, on our screens at least – refugees march­ing through Europe, shiv­er­ing in tents, trapped at bor­der posts, fall­ing prey to gang­sters and racists – as well as some we haven’t. Lon­don here is un­der mil­i­tary lock­down and split, like Homs or Aleppo, into elec­tri­fied and dark zones. Hyde Park is a refugee camp over­flown by swarms of drones.

De­spite the doors there is no true es­cape, no fi­nal ac­cess to set­tled se­cu­rity. Ev­ery­where is pre­car­i­ous, the novel sug­gests, be­cause ev­ery­where is so pro­foundly and ir­re­versibly con­nected.

Glob­al­i­sa­tion, in all pos­si­ble senses of the word, has been the key theme of Hamid’s chain of su­perla­tive nov­els. The dou­ble (re­li­gious and fi­nan­cial) mean­ing of the ti­tle of his best-known book, The Re­luc­tant Fun­da­men­tal­ist, il­lus­trates his method of imag­in­ing our global con­nec­tions through metaphors both sub­tle and pow­er­ful.

Exit West may be his strong­est novel yet. Cer­tainly the most provoca­tive in its ex­per­i­ments with genre, the prose is el­e­gant, fluid and self-as­sured. And it’s a mas­ter­piece of clar­ity. A sin­gle para­graph can ren­der a char­ac­ter ab­so­lutely dis­tinct.

At its heart it’s the story of a re­la­tion­ship, the wax­ing and wan­ing of love, and this is rich in wise ob­ser­va­tion. At times, writes Hamid, Saeed and Na­dia are “not un­like a cou­ple that was long and un­hap­pily mar­ried, a cou­ple that made out of op­por­tu­ni­ties for joy, mis­ery.”

It’s a very rare novel that grasps the spirit of the time as firmly as this one does. It ad­dresses di­rectly but not at all di­dac­ti­cally the 21st cen­tury me­di­ati­sa­tion of our lives and our global pol­i­tics of ra­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­equal­ity, but also of mo­bil­ity, though not nec­es­sar­ily up­ward, and the con­se­quent col­lapse of such pre­vi­ously solid cat­e­gories as na­tional and ge­o­graphic iden­tity: “for what did those divi­sions mat­ter now in a world full of doors?”

It points con­stantly, too, to the com­mon­al­ity of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly of tran­sience and sud­den trans­plan­ta­tion. For, if not in space, “we are all mi­grants through time”.

Exit West chal­lenges its au­di­ence to re­spond more com­pas­sion­ately, more imag­i­na­tively, to our tu­mul­tuous his­tor­i­cal mo­ment – and so it­self meets one of lit­er­a­ture’s high­est chal­lenges.

Robin Yassin-Kassab is a critic, nov­el­ist and the co-au­thor of Burn­ing Coun­try: Syr­i­ans in Rev­o­lu­tion and War.

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