The library system I work for has a cache of noncirculating popular titles called Lucky Day books. You can’t reserve them or find them in the catalog, but if you walk into a library and see a title you want on the shelf, it’s your “lucky day” and you can check it out. I was lucky enough to snag a copy of Exit West by Moshin Hamid after my shift, so it’s jumped into my 20 books of summer reading list.
Exit West starts in an unnamed middle eastern city, where Saeed and Nadia meet and start a love affair. As the violence deepens, their relationship deepens as much by necessity as by desire. Rumors swirl in the city about magical doors that are escape routes to western cities. Nadia and Saeed pass through such a door and find themselves in Berlin, and then take another door to London. They join hundreds of others, all unnamed, from a variety of countries, forming haphazard alliances and stateless communities in these Western cities. Of course, they are refugees, immigrants, the diaspora in general, and the novel reads like a parable on current political and social upheaval. The only characters with names in the entire novel are Nadia and Saeed — the rest are the huddled masses they are swept along with.
I did not love this novel even though I usually enjoy novels about immigrants and crossing cultures. There are some beautifully written passages, and Hamid can construct paragraph-long sentences with the best of them (a la Virginia Wolf or Faulkner). But the novel left me feeling kind of empty because as Hamid writes, “for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” I guess I just found it depressing.
But I bounced from this sobering book into the high-energy fantasy land of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Set in a dystopian future where everyone is wired into a giant virtual reality net called Oasis, this is the story of one lonely, orphan teenage boy who becomes a cultural superhero when he is the first to unravel a clue in an 80s-themed virtual Easter egg hunt/game constructed by Oasis’s creator before he died. And he gets the girl.
It’s fun and smart, and I especially enjoyed all the 80s references because, even though I wasn’t into video games, such as they were back then, or fantasy role-playing games, the 80s were my teen/young adult decade — my youth. My son read this book before I did and adored it, too, but perhaps for different reasons. In his case, I know it’s because he would love to be strapped into a virtual reality world 24/7 and living out every wild fantasy. Gah!
These were books 5 & 6 in my 20 books of summer.