Exit West | Study Guide

Mohsin Hamid

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Course Hero. "Exit West Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 Dec. 2019. Web. 17 Jan. 2022. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Exit-West/>.

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Course Hero. (2019, December 20). Exit West Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Exit-West/

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(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "Exit West Study Guide." December 20, 2019. Accessed January 17, 2022. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Exit-West/.


Course Hero, "Exit West Study Guide," December 20, 2019, accessed January 17, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Exit-West/.

Exit West | Plot Summary

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The central narrative of the novel follows the relationship of Saeed and Nadia from the moment they first meet to their mutual parting and brief reunion in their home country. Their story is interrupted by a series of scenes where characters and places have a solely temporal connection to Nadia and Saeed; these vignettes occur and are described contemporaneously with specific events in Nadia and Saeed's lives, but they do not directly impact Nadia and Saeed, who have no knowledge of the characters or the events in the vignettes.

Nadia and Saeed first meet while attending an evening course on marketing, and Saeed asks Nadia to go for coffee. She declines at first but eventually accepts. The narrator describes Saeed's family and their pleasant life in their home country, which contrasts with Nadia's more difficult relationship with her family members who do not accept her nontraditional lifestyle.

Saeed and Nadia begin dating, and their relationship deepens as they go on dinner dates and spend time in her apartment together smoking marijuana and taking hallucinogenic mushrooms. All around them, the violence in their hometown is flaring, even as refugees from other towns create makeshift lives on their streets. Nadia's cousin is killed, and as Saeed provides comfort, Nadia chooses to end her other romantic relationship with a musician.

Nadia and Saeed connect with the outside world—and escape their present war-torn city—by using their mobile phones, as do others in their city. The violence between militants and the government grows, and the government responds by instituting a citywide curfew and terminating all cell phone service, cutting off Saeed and Nadia's means of communication.

Nadia, living on her own, stocks up on groceries and is physically groped as she waits in a crowd to withdraw money at the bank. Saeed tries to contact her and finally manages to meet her at her apartment. Nadia and Saeed find pleasure in one another, but Saeed prevents them from having sex, arguing that they should wait until they are married. Nadia is upset, but she agrees to his conditions before realizing that he is making a casual proposal of marriage. Nadia declines, and Saeed invites her to move in with his family for her own safety, even if they are not married. Nadia also refuses his second suggestion until Saeed's mother is killed by a stray bullet. Nadia attends the funeral at Saeed's family's house and realizes how much they need her as she helps them host relatives and mourners. After that, Nadia returns to her apartment only to gather what belongings she needs.

Saeed and Nadia live somewhat comfortably in Saeed's father's house, even as the fighting continues around them. They do not marry, although they are forced to get forged marriage documents in case they are questioned by the militants, who now control their neighborhood. Saeed and Nadia begin to hear about the black doors that can transport people immediately to other places. Together, they seek out an agent to help them find a door. Once the agent locates one for them, Saeed's father tells them he will not go with them because he prefers to stay close to his wife's memory. He asks Nadia to watch over his son and to stay with Saeed at least until he is safe, and she agrees.

Saeed and Nadia pass through the black door and arrive on the Greek island of Mykonos, where they live on the outskirts of refugee camps, hiking the island, fishing, and looking for a way off the island to a place where they could build a life. They succeed when Nadia builds a relationship with a girl in a clinic who finds them an unguarded door that takes them to a house in London that they first mistake for a luxury hotel. The house had been left empty while its wealthy occupants were out of town, but it is soon full to bursting with migrants from all over the world. Nadia and Saeed make a life there, but their relationship begins to fray as Saeed gravitates toward people from his own country, while Nadia prefers to make a new life among the large number of Nigerians in the house. The house's maid arrives and calls the police, but a crowd of protesters prevents the police from removing the migrants.

Migrants have occupied the entire London neighborhood where the house is located, causing friction with the local Londoners. As tensions between the two groups rise, the government cuts the electricity to the migrant neighborhood. After weeks of waiting, the government prepares for an invasion, but the first night results in a fire at the cinema that kills more than two hundred migrants. As leaders begin to understand the human toll for removal of the migrant community, the government halts its progression, delays for two weeks, and finally retreats. Acceptance of the migrants grows in London, and the government introduces a program to build new housing. This includes a labor program that allows migrants to use their hours of work in constructing the settlement to pay for a house of their own in the new London Halo. Nadia and Saeed participate and get within months of owning their own house there. However, the tension of their situation continues to put a strain on their relationship, and neither is satisfied with their current life. When Nadia suggests that they pass through a door she has heard about and move to Marin, California, Saeed agrees.

In Marin, Saeed and Nadia begin to lead mostly separate lives, accepting the growing rift between them while remaining loyal to one another. Saeed is drawn to a preacher who volunteers with the migrants, as well as to the preacher's daughter, whose mother was from Saeed's country. Nadia works at the food cooperative and takes notice of the head cook there. Seeing Saeed happy, without knowing his growing closeness to the preacher's daughter, Nadia finally feels as if she has fulfilled her promise to Saeed's father to stay with him until he is safe, and she suggests that it might be time for the two of them to part ways. Saeed eventually agrees, and Nadia moves into the dormitory above the food cooperative, striking up a relationship with the head cook. Saeed and Nadia continue to see one another for a time, but they eventually lose touch.

Fifty years later, Nadia is back in her hometown for a visit, and Saeed happens to be there at the same time. They have coffee, catch up on one another's lives, and part ways, not knowing if they will ever see each other again.

A series of vignettes featuring black doors and scenes of migration all over the world are scattered throughout the text, seemingly without a pattern. They appear suddenly and usually have only a temporal connection to the surrounding text. The narrator describes the vignettes as occurring contemporaneously with events in Nadia and Saeed's life, but the characters and the events in the vignettes have no direct relationship with Nadia and Saeed. These vignettes interrupt the reader's experience of Nadia and Saeed's story in order to provide a global context for the events they experience.

The first vignettes are staged as particularly uncomfortable and threatening. An anonymous man emerges from a dark closet into a bedroom while a woman sleeps, unaware and defenseless. A local man stalks two young immigrant women, with menace in his mind and a knife in his hand. An old man watches border patrol officers as they deal with illegal immigrants near the Mexico/California border. A young man armed with a knockoff Russian assault rifle appears and joins the fighting in a place near Nadia and Saeed's hometown. These vignettes convey threats of violence that might be committed by and against migrants, mirroring events of the reader's world and inserting global debates into the midst of Nadia and Saeed's lives.

In the middle of the book, the vignettes become slightly less frequent, as Saeed and Nadia experience the black doors for themselves. A vignette of a Tamil-speaking family arriving in Dubai and tracked by high-tech surveillance parallels Saeed and Nadia's experience of living under the surveillance of the militants in their hometown. A young woman in Vienna seeks to promote the rights of migrants and to protect them, even from her countrymen who want revenge for a massacre carried out in Vienna by militants from Nadia and Saeed's country; she seeks to protect precisely the same kind of camp that Nadia and Saeed live in on Mykonos. In the middle of the book, the black door vignettes tend to parallel the experiences of Nadia and Saeed. At the same time, their story echoes the events, fears, threats, and clashes between immigrants and existing populations that are defined in the first four vignettes.

Toward the end of the book, the vignettes slowly become more meditative and less threatening. As Nadia comes to accept her new life, despite its challenges, the vignettes tell of others who find the door to be forces for improving their lives. A Kentish accountant forgoes suicide when a portal to Namibia appears in his house. A Mexican mother working in the United States appears through a door to collect her daughter from an orphanage, and reunited, they travel back through the door together. A man in Amsterdam strikes up a romance with a Brazilian man who happens through a shed door in his courtyard. An old woman meditates upon the mass migrations, feeling herself to be a migrant through time rather than place. A mute housemaid in Marrakech whose daughter lives abroad chooses to stay in the place she knows rather than join her daughter.

As the story progresses, the vignettes change from articulating deep-seated systemic fears about mass migration to hopeful tales of what lives might be changed for the better if global mobility was an instantaneous, unrestricted possibility.

Exit West Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Saeed and Nadia meet in an evening business course.

Rising Action

2 Saeed and Nadia begin their relationship over coffee.

3 Saeed and Nadia's relationship grows despite the war.

4 The government tightens security against the militants.

5 Nadia refuses Saeed's proposal, but they continue to date.

6 Nadia and Saeed hear about the doors that transport people.

7 Nadia moves into Saeed's house after his mother is killed.

8 Saeed and Nadia take a black door that leads to Mykonos.

9 Saeed and Nadia use another door and make a life in London.

10 In London, Saeed and Nadia make a stand against nativists.


11 In London, the nativists invade migrant-occupied areas.

Falling Action

12 The nativists retreat, accepting the borderless world order.

13 Saeed and Nadia struggle to maintain their relationship.

14 Saeed and Nadia decide to begin separate lives.


15 Decades later, Saeed and Nadia meet in their town of birth.

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