Othello by William Shakespeare

AF5A379C-606C-48A1-AF83-92754A187CF9I have to admit up front, I am a total Shakespeare nerd. I love his plays and I actually enjoy reading the verse. I also feel that these stories are plays, and should be heard and seen. However, for an upcoming episode of The Stacks, we are discussing New Boy by Tracy Chevalier, which is a retelling of Othello, so I thought I should brush up on the original text.

Here is an introduction to Othello if you’re not familiar with this great tragedy.

In Othello, Shakespeare creates powerful drama from a marriage between the exotic Moor Othello and the Venetian lady Desdemona that begins with elopement and mutual devotion and ends with jealous rage and death. Shakespeare builds many differences into his hero and heroine, including race, age, and cultural background. Yet most readers and audiences believe the couple’s strong love would overcome these differences were it not for Iago, who sets out to destroy Othello. Iago’s false insinuations about Desdemona’s infidelity draw Othello into his schemes, and Desdemona is subjected to Othello’s horrifying verbal and physical assaults.

I find Othello to be one of Shakespeare’s most relatable and easy to read plays. The story is very straight forward, there are not a lot of characters or subplots, even the language is relatively simple (for a Shakespeare play). If you’re a little intimidated by reading Shakespeare, this is a great place to start.

What makes Shakespeare masterful is how he was able to weave together so many themes and ideas into a short play. In Othello we are looking at the themes of, fear of the outsider, entitlement, sexism, love, trust, truth, rage, racism, and jealousy, and thats just to name a few. Shakespeare employs his characters to engage in debate over these issues, weather it be a conversation about jealousy, or a monologue on faithfulness. He uses the words to speak directly to the audience and drive home his points. You’re being asked to think as you read (or watch).

One of the things that stuck out to me upon re-reading Othello, is just how current the story feels. Iago might as well be the “Trump Supporter” we have heard so much about in the last few years. The white man who feels he is owed some standing in the world, and can not handle life not being what he thinks he is entitled to. He is racist, misogynistic, and thinks if he didn’t earn it he can just take it. His reality doesn’t meet his expectations of where he thinks his life should be, so he acts out instead. He throws the whole tragedy in motion, because of his fragile ego.

The last two acts of this play are fantastic. They move at the perfect speed and deliver a gut-wrenching finale. Each scene tops the one before, until you’re left with a feeling of what just happened here, and a pile of dead bodies, a staple of a Shakespearean tragedy.

If you’ve never read this play, I think its worth a read. If you read it years ago, it might be time for a re-read. It is that good. Its short and powerful. It is current. I would love to hear from you, so add your comments below.

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group (July 3, 2001)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Othello on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

Barraccon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neal Hurston

7656B5CF-B2A2-46BB-B40E-493BDF919E38.JPGI had zero plans to read Barracoon by Zora Neal Hurston any time soon, but was invited to join a buddy read (one time book club) with some friends I’ve made on the internet. Which, sounds a little creepy, except that people who talk about books on the internet are the best. So I got the book a dug in.

Here is the basis of what this book is all about:

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. 

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, and spent more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

Barracoon is hugely important. I hate when people call books important, mainly because I find it to be an overstatement. However this book is deserving of the moniker. The book comes from such a unique perspective, an African adult enslaved and taken to America who went on to live long enough to see freedom, and have his story documented in his own words. There are not many of these stories. Given the timeline (legal slave trade ending in early 1800s, and slavery ending some 60 years later), this kind of documentation, from an adult perspective was rare.

With all of that being said, to have this story is a gift. To give a singular voice to the tragedy of slavery and racism in The United States is rare. We are often told the story of a group of slaves (Amistad), or a generic fictitious narrative (Roots). This book is not that. This book is one story. The story of a man who is the link between Africa and America. A man who is afforded the luxury to not have to speak on behave of the many, but is allowed to speak for himself. This is not a luxury that Black people in America are often given. Hurston gave this gift.

The story of Cudjo is told in his own words. Hurston transcribes his words in his own dialect and does not compromise that for the sake of the reader. This commitment to authenticity is one reason this book was not published until 2018. Hurston wants you to hear what Cudjo says, and how he says it. His idiosyncratic phrases are as important to his story as the events themselves. They help to create the man. She gives the book its shape, but it is Cudjo who gives this book its heart.

Barracoon is surrounded by a forward (by Alice Walker), a couple of introductions, an appendix, an afterward, and a glossary, all of which give this story a place and gravitas. I found these supplemental writings to be powerful in their own way. They helped to contextualize both the work of Hurston, and the world of Cudjo.

In truth, my only complaint is that I could have read so much more. I would have devoured stories from Cudjo about his time as a slave, his feelings on the reconstruction era, and whatever else he may have shared with Hurston. I want to know about how Cudjo died, and what became of his family line and legacy. I want more of these types of stories. More uniquely individual tales from Black people. The stories are there, and they are interesting and important, and Black people deserve to be heard and heralded. I hope this book opens those doors.

Go read this book.

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad; 1st Edition edition (May 8, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Barracoon on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

373D9DE5-DAF7-409C-8CC6-C66584EF3853.JPGI don’t like comedy. I don’t really like celebrity books much either. So picking up The Last Black Unicorn, is really out of character for me. In the last few years I’ve read a handful of books that fall into the celebrity comedic memoir category, and except for Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, I have disliked them all. That being said, I did decide to listen to The Last Black Unicorn, and it was kind of wonderful.

If you don’t know Tiffany Haddish (breakout star of Girls Trip), or the book here is a little more for you.

Tiffany can’t avoid being funny—it’s just who she is, whether she’s plotting shocking, jaw-dropping revenge on an ex-boyfriend or learning how to handle her newfound fame despite still having a broke person’s mind-set. Finally poised to become a household name, she recounts with heart and humor how she came from nothing and nowhere to achieve her dreams by owning, sharing, and using her pain to heal others.

By turns hilarious, filthy, and brutally honest, The Last Black Unicorn shows the world who Tiffany Haddish really is—humble, grateful, down-to-earth, and funny as hell. And now, she’s ready to inspire others through the power of laughter.

Here is what I liked most about this book, its actually funny. Haddish does a great job of weaving her signature “tell it like it is” humor in with her own life events. She isn’t afraid of being too much, or going too far. She indulges us in the funny and bizarre events in her life, and doesn’t shy away from the darker moments. She talks about an abusive ex-husband, a childhood in foster car, and even her career trajectory in comedy. Her vulnerability makes this book both hilarious and heartbreaking.

I think its worth noting that in The Last Black Unicorn we do get to a little name-dropping, which I love. I love hearing celebrities talk about each other. Who doesn’t want to know about Jada and Will Smith using Groupon for the first time? Haddish only names those that she likes, and gives nicknames to those who didn’t treat her well. I respect it, and I appreciate it .

I wish that this book dug a little deeper. There are parts of her life she skims over. The story is a little disjointed, and the writing itself isn’t great. I can forgive most of that because she has lived such an interesting life, the content is strong. Its worth noting, that I listened to this book, and it is Haddish who narrates. She lived the life, she wrote the book, and she can perform those words. The audiobook is fantastic.

I think most people would enjoy this book. Its not too long, and helps to bring a little context to another person’s story. It is R-rated, and she talks about very adult stuff, just in case you wanted to play the audiobook in the car with your kiddos. If you’re like me and don’t like this genre, I would still say its worth reading.

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (December 5, 2017)
  • Audio Book: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy The Last Black Unicorn on Amazon

 

If you want to listen to this book, and get a FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

E6521C99-1A52-4616-B658-92150D28E59B.JPGThis book is a true gift. I am very grateful that Wamariya chose to share her story with the world. I think we, as readers and consumers, can often feel entitled to read great stories. I think we feel we deserve to be educated and entertained. The Girl Who Smiled beads is an ever present reminder, that every book, every story, is the work of someone else. It is their labor of love and struggle, and that they are making a choice to share that with us. We should be humbled to be in the presence of someone else’s journey, and we should be grateful. This book made me grateful.

If you are not familiar with this book, here is more information for you.

Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when her mother and father began to speak in whispers, when neighbors began to disappear, and when she heard the loud, ugly sounds her brother said were thunder. In 1994, she and her fifteen-year-old sister, Claire, fled the Rwandan massacre and spent the next six years migrating through seven African countries, searching for safety—perpetually hungry, imprisoned and abused, enduring and escaping refugee camps, finding unexpected kindness, witnessing inhuman cruelty. They did not know whether their parents were dead or alive. 
 
In The Girl Who Smiled Beads, Clemantine provokes us to look beyond the label of “victim” and recognize the power of the imagination to transcend even the most profound injuries and aftershocks. Devastating yet beautiful, and bracingly original, it is a powerful testament to her commitment to constructing a life on her own terms.

Clemantine and her sister Claire go on extraordinary journey, except its not extraordinary. It is all too common. It is the story of civil war. It is the story of death and violence. It is the story of becoming a refugee. It is one telling of this story, that too many know too well. Wamariya makes the point of reminding us that it is us, that are inadequate, we can not take in all the unique stories of suffering. So instead, we find ways to make certain ones the special ones. The ones we are willing to see.

The story as told by Wamariya to Weil is fantastic. The poetry in the language is beautiful and it brings so much depth and emotion. Wamariya is willing to get vulnerable. She is willing to be flawed for us. The structure of the book is not linear, we jump from event to event, year to year, we are sorting through Wamariya’s life with her. Looking for clues as to who she is and how she grew into her self. She is angry and bitter, she is distrustful, she is also a caretaker and a witness to so many. She will not let us see her, or her sister, as only victims.

While there are parts of the book I would have loved to hear more about (her relationship to Black Americans, the conflicts in Africa she experiences, her day to day acclimation in Chicago), this book is full. It is rich with thoughtful analysis of ones own journey, which is so hard to do. To be truly examines one self is no easy task.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is in line with other books about children who grow up in war torn African countries and find their way to America. Two that I am particularly fond of, What is the What by Dave Eggers, and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. While the other two books are more concerned with historical context and the telling of a cohesive story, I found this book to be more thoughtful, more introspective, and more concerned with the greater narrative of suffering that we inflict upon one another.

While there are parts of this book that are disturbing and emotional, I would suggest you read it. I would suggest you bear witness to Wamariya and her journey.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

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Sometimes reading a “classic” makes me a little anxious. I have a long history of reading books that are called classics, and I just couldn’t get into them. This list includes, but is not limited to, Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. So when we decided to cover Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin in The Stacks Book Club, I was worried.

If you don’t know the story of Giovanni’s Room here is a little breakdown for you.

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

While all “classics” get that title for a reason, the reason for this one, I actually understand. Language is powerful when it is wielded by Baldwin. There is no tepid point of view, there is no doubt, the words are strong, powerful, and precise. You can sense that Baldwin is grappling with so much of the same ideas that we are as the reader. There is a vulnerability to this work that speaks volumes. Baldwin was something special, and this book shows that.

Giovanni’s Room has been seen as a quintessential text in Gay Literature, and for good reason. Baldwin humanizes the struggle for sexual identity in a way that few did in the 1950s, and still few can do now. David, the protagonist, takes a journey of exploration and self loathing. He is asking the most basic question of what it means to live the life we want versus living the life we think we should have. Baldwin is crafted something universal in this story, despite the stigma of homosexuality, especially at that time.

There are a lot of other themes that come up in this book, from gender roles to the refusal to succumb to love, from wealth to isolation. This book examines what makes us human, what makes us carry on, and what ultimately makes us give up. And while this book is specific in its story, it is universal in scope. There is emotion and feeling that is evoked in this book, and there are moments that are deeply personal for each reader.

I would suggest this book to almost anyone,  and especially to lovers of the art of writing, and to fans of James Baldwin. I would also suggest this book to people who are struggling with their sexuality, I have heard from many friends that it is healing and helpful in that journey.

Make sure to check out our Book Club conversation on The Stacks Episode 6, where we discuss this book in greater detail. As always, I’d love to hear what you think about the book and the episode.

If you’ve read the book and want a little more insight into Baldwin and his writing of Giovanni’s Room I would highly recommend this New Yorker article, The Unsparing Confessions of “Giovanni’s Room” by Colm Tóibín.

  • Paperback : 176 pages
  • PublisherVintage Books; 1 edition (2013)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Giovanni’s Room on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

 

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

 

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When I picked this book to be covered on The Stacks Podcast (episode 4) I didn’t think much of the selection. I hadn’t heard people really talking about the book, but Sarah (my guest) and I agreed it seemed like something we’d both be interested in. I have to say, that honestly, I have never been more pleased with a decision to pick up a book in a long time.

Before I move on, here is a little bit about this book.

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life―to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth―and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

I found Men We Reaped to be one of the most powerful and moving books I’ve read in the last five years. The writing itself is beautiful and fluid. Ward takes her skills in writing poetic prose from her fiction work, and melds that with her life story. It reads almost like fiction, but better. She shares her own story with us chronologically, and then tells the story of each of the men who died, in reverse chronological order. These stories are woven together though the book. It is the only way the Men We Reaped could work, and it works beautifully.

This book is dissecting what is means to be young, black, and poor, in the American South. What is your life worth? Ward comes to some devastating conclusions there. I would argue that what she comes to, is bigger than just Southern life, this book could be set anywhere. It isn’t, because it is Ward’s story, but what she discovers touches on universal themes in the Black American experience. I would put this book alongside James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time or Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Ward’s Memoir is telling of the greater history of what happens to Black folks in this country. Her message is loud and clear.

I would be remiss not to mention that this book is also about what it means to survive. Ward writes this story, because she can, because she is alive. She is surrounded by the women of her family, and it becomes clear that the history of the Black matriarchy is no accident either. The strength of the women in this story is unparalleled.

This book is a wonderful gift that Jesmyn Ward has shared with us. It is deeply personal, and still finds a way to be universal. It is at once poetic and direct. I feel honored that she chose to share her words with the world.

I have recommended this book to just about everyone I know, and have yet to hear a bad word back (I’m waiting though, you know there are always the haters). If you haven’t read it, you should move it to the top of your list. It is that good. Then give The Stacks Episode 4 a listen. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

  • Paperback : 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (September 16, 2014)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy Men We Reaped on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

B8907752-52E3-464B-9511-5AE9C5DB5DDAWould you believe me if I told you I never read A Wrinkle in Time as a child? Most people freak out and act as if I told them I’ve never had a sip of water. I don’t know. I guess it just never made its way into my hands. If you’re like me and have never read this book, and don’t know the story here is the gist of this classic children’s novel.

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. 

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract”.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

I have to be honest. The only reason I picked this book ups was because of the Ava DuVernay movie adaptation. This movie has a star studded cast, including Oprah. I just felt like I should read the book and then go see the movie.

I read the book. It was a book. There was so little that felt special or exciting to me about this story. The one thing I appreciated was the permission that was given to Meg, the young protagonist, to be her full self. She was encouraged to lean into her vices and trust her instincts. Empowering a young girl to be as moody, angry, and impatient as she wants is wonderful. We need more of that in the world. We should all give ourselves the freedom to feel our feelings fully, and to be where we are. There is no virtue without vice.

The rest I found to be mediocre at best. I didn’t really follow the science fiction parts. Ideas we just thrown out, but not worked through. The book builds toward a climatic ending, and then resolves itself in a about eight pages. There is a romance that is totally superfluous, especially in a children’s book.

The part of the book that I found to be the most off putting was the presence of a very pro-christian outlook. I know L’Engle was a Christian, and her believes of course informed her work. In this story, its seemed unnecessary. It didn’t add value or complexity, it just felt like an opportunity for proselytizing.

It is worth noting that the most powerful part of this book is its place in its own historical context. A sci-fi children’s book with a female protagonist and a woman author written in the 1960’s is so rare it is important by virtue of existing. That so many people, male and female, connected with it over the course of decades speaks to its power. That so many people found this profound in their own lives is meaningful. It is an important step for literature, a huge step in the “representation matters” movement. I do not want my personal opinion of the book to take anything away from what the book is, and what the books means.

I wonder if I had read this book as a child how I would connect to it. I wonder this often about books, not just children’s books. After reading a New York Times op-ed on the best ages to read certain books, I couldn’t agree more. We grow and we change and we develop, and so does our understanding of the world. It makes sense that I might not be able to suspend my disbelief in the same way a ten year old can. And that is okay.

If you are ten, or you have a child, especially a moody little girl, this book seems like it would be a hit! Its a classic for a reason, even if its not for me.

  • Hardcover : 216 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 1, 1962)
  • 2/5 stars
  • Buy A Wrinkle in Time on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

Broken Bananah: Life, Love, and Sex… Without a Penis by Ross Asdourian

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This book doesn’t fall into my normal reading habits, as a matter of almost fact, I don’t like comedy books. I don’t use my reading time for laughter. However, I picked this book up cause I know the author, and can say I actually experienced part of his journey with him. Not in the way you’re thinking.

This book tells the story of Ross Asdourian, a single man in his 20’s, who breaks his penis during sex. It sounds like a joke, but its not. I won’t talk too much about the details, because the details are what make this book special. You feel like you’re right along with him through it all, even when you wish you weren’t.

Asdourian does an expert job of weaving his personal life, his sex life, and his many past lives together in this memoir. You meet characters along the way (one of which is named after me, so yes, I’m bragging) and they are all quirky and hilarious. I guess when you read a comedy book, you should expect a little hilarity.

That being said, this book isn’t all funny. Broken Bananah also offers a (very) unique perspective on what is important in life and love, and that things could always be worse. Its hard to imagine worse than the potential loss of your main sex organ, but Asdourian puts it all in perspective. He gets vulnerable and honest in a way you don’t typically see in these types of books.

I have to admit, I had very low expectations for this book. When I think of self-published books, I usually think of something close to unreadable. Turns out I don’t know anything and there are plenty of great books that started out by being self published.

If you’re not one for graphic details on sexual intercourse, porn, masturbation, blood, and medical procedure, I can not in good conscious recommend this book to you. This book relies heavily on a good pun for the male anatomy, and is a little crass, which I’m sure you guessed given the title.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think you might too. It isn’t anything I would normally read or enjoy, but turns out I can surprise myself sometimes. I would love to hear your thoughts on this book.

  • Paperback : 182 pages
  • Publisher: Self Published (April 9, 2018)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Broken Bananah on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here

 

Ep. 3 Talking Books with Sarah Fong

cropped-TheStacks_logo_final.jpgOn this week of The Stacks we are joined by Sarah Fong, a PhD Candidate in American Studies. Sarah is currently writing her dissertation on U.S. practices of social welfare, particularly as they relate to histories of slavery and colonization. This week we talk about the writing process, reading for work vs. reading for pleasure, and the power of books to teach us new things, and allow us to make changes in the world.

Get to know Sarah this week, before next week’s The Stacks Book Club conversation on Jesmyn Ward’s  Men We Reaped.

Here is a list of all the books mentioned on this week’s podcast:

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Here are some other things we talked about this week:

2015 Man Booker Prize

Goodreads

Gone with the Wind (MGM and Selznick International Pictures)

Ava DuVernay

2011 National Book Award Winners

2017 National Book Award Winners

Connect with The Stacks: iTunes| WebsiteInstagramFacebook | TwitterGoodreads |Traci’s Instagram

Connect with Sarah: Instagram

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

IMG_4493This book is very special to me, as it is the very first book we covered on the podcast, as part of The Stacks Book Club (TSBC). You can hear my conversation about this book, with my guest, Dallas Lopez here on the second episode of The Stacks.

If you’re not familiar with this book here is a little blurb about Hamid’s work:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

There is something so unique and moving about this book. I noticed it right away. The first sentence of this book is powerful, and yet still tender. Hamid crafts his sentences to unfold in front of your very eyes. You think you know here he is going, and yet still you never quite see the end of the sentence coming. At the risk of sounding cliche, the writing in this book is beautiful. It is a thread that is present throughout the book, and is what gives this book its heart.

The premise of Exit West is genius. Following two young refugees who have recently come together is unique. This is not the story of the family of five picking up and leaving home. This book allowed me to think about migrants we rarely think of, young lovers. Those deciding to make a go of it. It gave a new face to the struggle for freedom and equality.

While I did feel the book was full of amazing ideas, and it forced me to confront so many stereotypes and so much of who I would like to think I would be in the face of a crisis. The book doesn’t do much in the way of plot. It is mostly there to stir up ideas. To ask us questions. To reflect a certain version of the world and to see how we respond.

The last fifth of the book fizzled out a bit for me. I wanted so much for the end of this book to be as spectacular and emotional as where it started, and it didn’t deliver in that. I have come to think though, that my desire for an explosive ending says more about me than the book. Hamid carefully crafted this story, and he made sure the ending fit the larger metaphor he was sharing with his readers. I was just too caught up to see it at first. The more I think about this book the more I have come to love the ending.

I really enjoyed this book. It was special and magical and gorgeous and maybe even a little bit sexy. I would suggest it for just about anyone, in fact I did, thats why it was my very first TSBC pick.

If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you think of it. If you’ve listened to the podcast, I’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation.

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (March 7, 2017)
  • 4/5 stars
  • Buy Exit West on Amazon

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