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Exit West

Exit West Summary


Here you will find a Exit West summary (Mohsin Hamid's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Exit West Summary Overview

Saeed and Nadia, dwellers of a city teetering on the brink of warfare, initiate a cautious romance amidst societal limitations and increasing conflict between the government and a rebel faction. Their communication is primarily through text messages as Saeed, who shares a home with his parents, visits Nadia's apartment in disguise to avoid arousing suspicion. The government's eradication of all mobile and Wi-Fi services to counteract terrorist activities severs their only means of connection, driving Saeed to tirelessly search for Nadia until finding her at her apartment. Following the tragic death of Saeed's mother in the crossfire, Nadia acquiesces to move in with Saeed and his father. As the tension intensifies, they hear whispers about mythical doors capable of world-wide teleportation, a notion they initially dismiss. The city is eventually captured by the insurgents who enforce stringent regulations and public punishments. Desperate to flee, Saeed and Nadia engage a man reputed to facilitate escape via the magical doors, exchanging their money for the promise of contact. When the man finally establishes communication, Saeed's father opts out of the journey, instead extracting a promise from Nadia to ensure Saeed's safety and stability. The pair departs the next day with minimal essentials, and upon passing through the door, find themselves on Mykonos Island, now a sprawling refugee camp. After several months, they manage to elude the wealthy nations guarding these doors to prevent refugee influx, with assistance from a local girl who smuggles them through another door. Emerging in a vacant mansion in London, they cohabit with other refugees while grappling with the strain of their experiences and a dwindling romantic connection. Their presence elicits mixed responses from the locals: some offer aid while others incite violence. As the British government attempts to dislodge the squatting refugees by severing the power and initiating a violent siege, the migrants regroup according to nationality. Nadia and Saeed relocate to a work camp with the hope of securing a dwelling through labor in the government's proposed halo city. Meanwhile, their relationship wanes further due to fatigue and fading affection, prompting Nadia to propose a move to Marin, California. In Marin, they establish a modest home. Nadia joins a co-op, and Saeed finds comfort in a predominantly Black religious community. Despite settling into their new lives, they undergo personal changes: Nadia discovers her bisexuality while Saeed develops an attraction towards the preacher's daughter. Their relationship evolves into a platonic one and they choose to part ways to avoid bitterness. Nadia relocates to the co-op and initiates a relationship with a coworker while Saeed grows closer to the preacher's daughter. Their separation is initially challenging, but they eventually lose contact. A chance meeting in their hometown café five decades later rekindles memories of their shared past, and they part unsure of another encounter.

chapter 1

As tensions rise in a city teeming with refugees, life goes on, seemingly undisturbed. Young Saeed, enrolled in a marketing course for professional growth, meets Nadia, an apparent conservative due to her black robe. Despite his hesitations, Saeed invites her for a coffee catch-up. Nadia asks him about his prayer habits, to which he confesses he isn't as regular as he should be. She, however, reveals she doesn't pray at all and suggests they postpone their coffee plan, leaving on her motorcycle. Struggling to focus on his critical advertising pitch at work the next day, Saeed can't shake off his thoughts of Nadia. His preoccupation leads to a poorly executed pitch, which, despite being sent out by his boss without comment, makes him feel remorseful. Meanwhile, in far-off Australia, a man emerges from the inexplicable darkness of a woman's closet who is home alone, her spouse away for work. The man, scared, promptly flees through a window. Saeed shares his centrally-located apartment with his parents, a popular practice for unmarried men in his city. The narrator hints that this prime location, coveted in peaceful times, could bring danger during war, ultimately ravaging the building's facade. The book recounts how Saeed's parents fell in love, met at a cinema, and frequented bookshops that eventually gave way to a shopping mall. Despite the dwindling passion, their love remains. The day following his initial proposal to Nadia, Saeed gazes at stars through a family telescope, a prized possession passed down through generations. Although gunfire sounds in the distance, Saeed and his parents choose to stay on the porch a bit longer. The subsequent week, Saeed and Nadia finally have their coffee date. Saeed queries about her black robe, to which she replies it's a measure to avoid unwarranted attention.

chapter 2

Nadia, unlike Saeed, doesn't have a harmonious relationship with her family, primarily due to her questioning nature and independent attitude. Despite societal norms, she chooses to live alone after finishing university, which further strains her relationship with her family. To sustain herself, she works at an insurance firm. Saeed and Nadia have a date at a Chinese eatery, which is deserted by its immigrant owners. The ambience and food still feel authentic. During their conversation, they share their dream travel destinations - Nadia's is Cuba and Saeed's is Chile. Post-dinner, Nadia invites Saeed to her place since it's unsafe for couples to be out at night. She clarifies that there won't be any sexual intimacy, leaving Saeed a bit taken aback. On their way, they witness refugees sleeping on the streets and cross a couple of security checkpoints. Nadia lives on the top floor of a building owned by an elderly widow. To avoid suspicion, Saeed disguises himself as a woman by wearing a robe dropped by Nadia. Once inside, they spend their time smoking marijuana. Amid the tranquility of a Tokyo bar, a man enjoys his Irish whiskey. Despite never visiting Ireland, he is drawn to its concept. He doesn't appreciate the Filipino women in his district and follows them out of the bar, his hand on his knife. When Nadia finds out about her cousin's death in a bombing, her sense of safety is shattered. She avoids visiting her relatives to prevent causing further distress. Saeed accompanies her on an early morning visit to her cousin's grave, strengthening their bond. Nadia, who had been seeing a musician, decides to end their relationship. They part ways after a final night of intimacy. Unbeknownst to Nadia, the musician was deeply in love with her and continues to think of her until his untimely death a few months later. As helicopters hover over the city, a soldier observes the scene below from a doorway.

chapter 3

Saeed and Nadia form a close bond through their cellphones, exchanging messages and photos. Saeed's phone use is controlled, while Nadia is more freewheeling, using it to connect to the world. She employs the internet to order hallucinogenic mushrooms, an act that will later lead to the execution of the supplier. Despite being accosted for her boldness, she manages to escape. When the mushrooms are delivered, their day is disrupted by news of a militant takeover of the stock exchange. Despite the unsettling news, they decide not to cancel their scheduled date. Saeed drives to Nadia's, where they experiment with the mushrooms. As they come down from their trip, they share their first kiss. Upon checking his phone, Saeed finds missed calls from his worried parents, who scold him on his return. Across the globe in California, a former Navy man watches young officers secure an area, but is brushed off when he tries to offer assistance. The militants' boldness escalates back home, leading to a government-imposed curfew. Saeed and his father pray for peace and Saeed's safety. Due to the worsening situation, Saeed and Nadia's colleagues are rife with rumors about plans to leave the country. The couple starts meeting for lunch since the curfew prevents night-time travel. Their relationship grows, leading to a disagreement about whether to wait until marriage for sex. Nadia is surprised by Saeed's traditional stance. Saeed shows Nadia a series of photos that depict cities at night without electricity. Nadia is unsure whether these images represent the past, present, or future. Their bond is abruptly severed when all cell and internet service is cut off as a counter-terrorism strategy by the government, leaving them feeling isolated.

chapter 4

Nadia and Saeed, unable to communicate, start taking desperate measures. Saeed searches for Nadia at her workplace and their usual hangouts, but to no avail. Nadia, on the other hand, hoards food and cash amidst the escalating crisis, with a man making unwelcome advances on her at the bank. When Nadia finally meets Saeed, he brings her survival supplies, leading her to ask if he owns a firearm. Nadia suggests they have sex to forget her earlier ordeal, but Saeed declines. She then proposes marriage, but they remain undecided. Upon parting, Nadia hands Saeed her office number, a key to her apartment, and a robe to aid his stealthy visits. Post Saeed's departure, the distant sound of gunfire is heard. After sundown, a courageous man watches as another man, armed with a rifle, joins the ongoing combat. The insurgents gain ground as areas succumb to their control and inhabitants vanish mysteriously, including Nadia's family. However, Nadia and Saeed's residential areas remain under government hold. As the conflict intensifies, workplaces shut down leading to unpaid employees like Nadia looting office resources. Amidst the chaos, rumors of magical doors offering a ticket out of the war-torn city start circulating, piquing Nadia and Saeed's interest. Saeed implores Nadia to move in with his family for safety, but she is reluctant to relinquish her autonomy. However, following the tragic death of Saeed's mother in a random shooting, Nadia stays with Saeed after the funeral and never returns to her place.

chapter 5

In the midst of danger, Saeed and his father have to conduct a small funeral for Saeed's mother. Visitors come to pay their respects but don't linger. Due to circumstances, Nadia stays with Saeed, sleeping on his bedroom floor while Saeed sleeps in the living room. Saeed's father spends his nights alone in his bed. Militants have seized control of Saeed's area, causing utilities to fail and constant bombing. Together under a blanket, Saeed comments on how natural Nadia's presence feels. When Nadia's place is captured by the militants, she gathers essentials, her records and a lemon tree from her apartment. She manages to pass through a militant checkpoint by bribing them with canned food, which brings a smile to Saeed's father when he sees the lemon tree. With music banned by the militants, Nadia has to hide her records. A surprise check by the militants leads to the execution of Saeed's upstairs neighbors due to religious affiliations. The remnants of this violence seep into Saeed's living room. Saeed and Nadia find solace in each other's arms one night, however, they refrain from going all the way. Things quiet down after the militants capture the city, but the constant drone bombings and public executions keep the atmosphere tense. Saeed's father visits his relatives daily to keep the memory of Saeed's mother alive. One day, Saeed and Nadia venture out to meet "the agent" regarding the mysterious doors. They carry a counterfeit marriage certificate with hopes of securing passage through the doors. They hand over their money, uncertain of the results. Meanwhile, in Dubai, a family is arrested in a luxury building under the watchful eyes of security drones. Around Saeed's apartment, surveillance drones and informants are omnipresent. The residents have to relieve themselves outdoors due to the lack of utilities. Saeed receives a letter providing the details of their escape. However, Saeed's father surprises them by revealing he won't accompany them. He uses the excuse of staying with Saeed's mother, but the truth is he doesn't want to hinder their journey. The narrator declares that it's the end of Saeed's nights with his father. Saeed's father requests Nadia to stay with Saeed until he's safe. She promises to do so without a second's hesitation. Nevertheless, she feels guilty for leaving Saeed's father behind.

chapter 6

Saeed's father leaves home, making it easier for Saeed and Nadia to embark on their journey. Saeed carries a picture of his parents and a flash drive with additional photos. As they walk towards the rendezvous point, they brush knuckles, acutely aware of the risk they're taking. They reach a deserted dentist’s office where they hand over their last payment to an armed man. They wait in the exam room, filled with apprehension. The agent instructs Saeed to pass through the door first. However, Saeed is worried about Nadia and hesitant to trust the agent. Nadia squeezes Saeed's hands and steps into the darkness beyond the door first. They end up in a public restroom on the other side of the door. Upon venturing outside, they find themselves in a beach club and discover a refugee camp nearby. They learn they are in Mykonos, Greece, with all exits to wealthier nations heavily guarded. They buy supplies, set up their tent, and try to make contact with the outside world. While Saeed can't get through to his father, Nadia manages to text a few friends abroad. They listen to fellow refugees to stay updated and learn survival tips. Back in Vienna, militants from their homeland launch an attack on unarmed civilians. This leads a young Viennese woman to take a stand, ignoring menacing stares at her pro-migrant badges, and heads towards the brewing riots. As winter approaches, Saeed and Nadia brace themselves for colder nights. They bear witness to false promises of escape to Germany and get duped by a supposed friend who disappears with their money. Saeed questions Nadia on her choice of clothing and they discuss its significance. Food becomes scarce. A failed fishing attempt results in Nadia getting hurt during an escape from suspicious followers. They find safety by setting up camp in the view of guards. Nadia's injury brings them close to a local volunteer who promises to help them get off the island. The woman eventually leads them to a door that offers an escape. With a heartfelt goodbye to the woman, Nadia and Saeed step through the door.

chapter 7

Saeed and Nadia find themselves in an extravagant, deserted mansion in London. They settle in one of the bedrooms, wary of the possible need to escape, and make it homier with a picture of Saeed's parents. Meanwhile, the house gradually becomes a dwelling for immigrants from around the globe. While adjusting to their new surroundings, Nadia insists on maintaining her cleanliness, as a reminder of her humanity. The mansion's housekeeper is horrified to find it housing immigrants. Concurrently, other affluent London neighborhoods also become refugee havens. A British accountant, contemplating suicide at the time, stumbles upon a magical door in his room leading to Namibia, where he eventually relocates. Nadia relishes their new home, likening it to a university dorm. Saeed, however, feels unease around the refugees and guilt for inhabiting another person's house. He attempts to prevent looting, eliciting a harsh reaction from Nadia, which sparks tension between the two. Soon, food becomes scarce and the refugees must resort to foraging and trading. During one such foraging trip, Saeed and Nadia are attacked by a mob. Despite their injuries, they manage to comfort each other. Amidst the ongoing crisis, the British government strategizes the refugees' removal, while some locals provide aid. Saeed and Nadia vow to be more compassionate with each other and discuss their dream lives. One day, they spot a fox in the mansion garden, which, according to an elderly woman, is symbolic of their love. This notion discomforts them as their romantic feelings have been dwindling. To ease the situation, they start exploring London separately, improving their relationship. However, they are fearful of getting separated amidst potential unrest. During sleepless nights, they observe the fox's antics, until one evening, the power in the neighborhood is cut off.

chapter 8

With dwindling electricity, Saeed and Nadia's neighborhood plunges into darkness, except for a few lit areas. The dark attracts crime and surveillance drones, with the blame shifting between natives and migrants. Among the immigrant crowd, groups are forming based on their origin countries. The house where Saeed and Nadia live mainly houses Nigerians. Nadia becomes a regular at the house council meetings, surprising everyone because of her youth and background. She forges connections with the residents, except for a young woman in a leather jacket. Saeed, on the other hand, feels outnumbered and isolated. One day, the same woman confronts Saeed in the hallway, which ends up with him feeling humiliated and scared. Saeed discovers a house filled with people from his own country and starts spending time there. He feels a sense of belonging when he prays with them, and is even invited to move in by an elderly man. However, they would have to sleep separately. Saeed suggests the move to Nadia, but she isn't willing to give up their private space. Saeed nostalgically remembers their home country and his old relationship with Nadia. The council decides against forming an armed resistance to avoid potential violence, although Nadia has some reservations. Meanwhile, Saeed is given a gun for protection at the other house. He is wary, but he agrees. Nadia is surprisingly fine with it, and they share an intimate night. Saeed however, doesn't know how to use the gun. The British government displays their power with a parade of drones and tanks which scares Saeed and Nadia. Nadia manages to only get weak cell reception at the edges of Dark London. Seeing a photo of herself on the internet shocks her. She contemplates her decision to leave her country and finds the multicultural environment liberating. Gunfire commences an operation to remove the migrants from Dark London, causing Saeed and Nadia to barricade themselves in their room. Public announcements urge a peaceful leave while soup kitchens close down, leading to food rationing in their house. Nadia feels guilty for making Saeed leave their country, while Saeed worries about protecting Nadia. After two weeks of fighting, British forces unexpectedly withdraw. The cause remains unknown, but the neighborhood celebrates when power returns.

chapter 9

London begins building the London Halo, a new city outline meant to accommodate incoming migrants. Saeed and Nadia are stationed at a work camp, promised housing and utilities in return for their labor. However, they are obligated to pay a tax from their wages to local Londoners. They currently reside in a temporary pavilion camp, optimistically planning to have a home by fall. During one night, Nadia dreams about a girl from Mykonos, while Saeed has visions of his father. News comes that his father has passed away due to pneumonia. Saeed struggles with grief, distracting himself with work. Nadia, despite her own discomfort, tries to provide him solace. She even offers to accompany him when he prays with friends for his father, despite not being religious herself. In Amsterdam, an old man observes a wrinkle-faced Brazilian man emerge from a tool shed. The Brazilian man presents the old man with one of his paintings as a gift, sparking a relationship between them. Certain British citizens hold supervisory roles at the camp. Saeed maintains positive relations with his British boss, who doesn't segregate himself from his workers. However, the boss remains indifferent to Saeed's gratitude. One day, Saeed and Nadia decide to take an early morning walk. Despite the tension between them, they remain silent, observing displaced birds in the trees. Nadia is part of a crew that installs pipes. The digger operator and his wife, both locals, show camaraderie towards Nadia's crew. During their leisure, Saeed and Nadia assist newcomers in settling. Their relationship continues to strain due to the changes in their lives. Their mutual attraction is waning, and their differences are becoming more pronounced. Eventually, Nadia proposes they relocate to Marin in San Francisco Bay area, hoping a change in environment would revive their relationship. Saeed agrees, hoping for the same.

chapter 10

In Marin, Saeed and Nadia construct a makeshift home from crates and a metallic sheet. They run their home on solar energy and collect rainwater for use. Nadia obtains employment at a grocery co-op in Sausalito, with optimism in the air. One day, Nadia returns with some marijuana given to her at work, unsure of Saeed's reaction. Saeed, who has grown more pious and sad, surprises her with a joyous laugh upon seeing it. Despite longing to embrace him, Nadia restrains herself. The narrator notes the lack of indigenous people in Marin due to displacement and genocide. Many inhabitants consider themselves native, including descendants of African slaves. Saeed discovers a mostly Black American church, appreciating the charitable work they do. The preacher's late wife hailed from Saeed’s homeland, drawing him further in. He volunteers with the preacher's daughter, a young woman he finds attractive, causing guilt. Nadia notices Saeed's uplifted spirits, reminding her of their past. Her feelings for him have shifted, and she now views him more as a brother. Her sexuality evolves, with her thoughts often straying to a girl she met in Mykonos. As Saeed prays more, he feels connected to his past, humanity, and the inevitability of death. While he can't share this with Nadia, the preacher's daughter understands, leading to deep conversations about her mother’s homeland. Although Saeed and Nadia's relationship has morphed into friendship, they remain loyal to each other. They give each other space and cherish their remaining time as a couple. When a small surveillance drone crashes into their home, they decide to bury it. Saeed considers praying for it. They often sit together outside their home, looking at the bay. Nadia proposes visiting the global cuisine district, which they agree on. In Palo Alto, an elderly woman, who has never moved, witnesses her surroundings evolve over time. She has essentially migrated through time.

chapter 11

In the midst of global displacement, Saeed and Nadia's relationship starts to drift apart. During a marijuana-fueled evening, Nadia proposes to move out, met with an indifferent Saeed. By morning, Saeed imply he'd leave instead, but Nadia stands firm, packs, and departs in the rain without an embrace. Nadia settles into an available room at the co-op. Initially, her colleagues were distant due to her black robe's intimidating impression, but an encounter with a gun-wielding man at the co-op gets them talking. After this incident, she is informed about the rooms for needy employees. Nadia starts dating a woman who cooks at the co-op after meeting her at a concert. Meanwhile, Saeed becomes friends with the preacher's daughter. They spend a lot of time together, and she appreciates Saeed's religious views and his insights about the stars. She's easygoing and makes Saeed eager to listen. She's part of a campaign for a Bay Area regional council, aiming for equal representation of all inhabitants. She introduces Saeed to a lightweight gadget that could prevent voting duplicity. Two nights into their separation, Saeed checks on Nadia's wellbeing. They begin a weekly walking ritual, which is emotionally challenging due to their separation regrets. However, their new relationships disrupt this routine, leading to less and less contact until they stop communicating entirely. In Morocco, a mute maid continues her life in her village, despite many leaving. Deserted by her husband and daughter, she prefers staying where she's known and tolerated. When her migratory daughter visits, she invites the maid to join her, but the maid isn't ready to leave yet.

chapter 12

Half a century later, Nadia revisits her hometown, which has been revitalized. She discovers that Saeed is also present and they reconnect. They rendezvous at a coffee shop near her previous residence to share the stories of their lives. Nadia ponders how different things would have been if she had married him, while Saeed contemplates the possibilities if they had been intimate. Nadia teasingly reminds him that they were. She then inquires if Saeed has witnessed the Chilean desert, to which he affirms and suggests a future visit together. She acquiesces. They hug and depart, unsure if their paths will ever cross again.

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