As you could probably guess by now, Exit West is quickly becoming one of our favorite books of the year! Author Mohsin Hamid – who also wrote The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia – was recently kind enough to answer some questions from our booksellers:
BP: What effect do you believe a novel can have on real-world issues like terrorism, Islamophobia, and immigration?
MH: I think novels can expand our sense of empathy and diminish our fear of “the other.” And I think novels can help make us more hopeful for the future and less prone to being drawn to political nostalgia, which demagogues and xenophobes feed off of.
BH: Between Nadia and Saeed’s relationship and the lyrical feeling your writing evokes, music seemed really integral to Exit West–do you find music impacting in your writing process?
MH: Music has always been a passion of mine. My wife Zahra is a singer trained in the classical South Asian tradition. I often listen to music before I write: everything from qawali to pop to blues to gospel. It unlocks something. I often feel like writing after listening to music. I get my best ideas that way, sometimes.
BP: This book has an epic feel to it but is fairly lean at 240 pages. is there a longer, more detailed version laying around somewhere? I don’t want to read it but just curious if and/or when you realized that it needed to be just what it is; this lean, mean devastating blow to the head.
MH: I always wanted this book to be lean. I prefer to compress my novels, leave spaces and gaps open so there is room for readers to do more with them, to expand them in their imagination.
BP: Coming off reading How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Exit West…what are your thoughts on the idea of soul mates?
MH: I’m a romantic. I believe one can find a person who is that close, and it’s possible for the closeness to endure. I don’t think there’s only one person in the world who is potentially that match for us. The soul mate we find depends in part on chance and timing. And I think wanting to have a lifelong soul mate means being drawn to actively rediscovering that person again and again. Because we change.
BP: Any other writers who are writing about refugees and immigration who you recommend (fiction/nonfiction)?
MH: There are so many. Among the novelists I admire today for their writings on migration are Julie Otsuka (The Buddha in the Attic) and Pico Iyer (The Global Soul) Chinua Achebe (No Longer At Ease) is no longer with us, but a classic.