Characters, Themes, and Quotes

Main Characters
Additional Characters
Central Themes


  • Saeed – A well-educated, optimistic dreamer, Saeed resides in a modest, two-bedroom apartment with his mother and father. Physically, he appears, "despite his stubble, boy-like." His religion shapes his decisions, and he abstains from having sex with his girlfriend, Nadia. Saeed works for a small agency that specializes in outdoor advertising. While attending a class on corporate identity and product branding he first spots Nadia and, many days later, humbly invites her to have coffee. Though initially smitten by her keen wit, eventually, Saeed finds it intimidating.


  • Nadia – Religiously conservative parents gave Nadia and her sister an ordinary upbringing. However, Nadia's immediate family abandons her when she moves out. To continue living alone as an unwed woman, Nadia is "always clad from the tops of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe." Paradoxically to her conservative attire, Nadia's persona is refreshingly edgy. She does not pray; she does participate in psychedelic drug use and, unlike Saeed, premarital sex. Her relationship with Saeed starts while she works as an insurance provider. Though fiercely independent, her determination to survive persuades her to be vulnerable around Saeed.


  • Saeed's Mother – Once a vivacious, passionate wife, Saeed's mother is a shadow of her former self. Now a retired schoolteacher, she continues to perform her role as a reserved wife and mother. Saeed's mother had Saeed, her only child, unexpectedly at a late age. Her death is the catalyst for Nadia agreeing to move in with Saeed and Saeed's father.


  • Saeed's Father – As a young man, Saeed's father meets Saeed's mother at a movie theatre in the same unnamed city the novel begins. They marry out of love and not to fulfill an arrangement between their families as was more typical in their community. His wife's death significantly impacts him and is why he does not flee his country with his son. Despite the imminent danger, Saeed's father stays in his homeland and "in the past, for the past offered more to him."


  • Nadia's Ex-Lover – Early in her relationship with Saeed, Nadia hooks up with her former lover. While they both care for one another, neither are aware of the other's true feelings. Pride and doubt impede them from ever knowing each other deeply.


  • The Pastor's Daughter – Towards the end of his romance with Nadia, Saeed meets a devout woman from his country. The pastor's daughter is like traditional women from home. Eventually, she and Saeed marry.


  • The Plight of Refugees – Together Saeed and Nadia transcend through each phase of a refugee's journey. Their stories as travelers intimately detail the strange way life continues even in the constant presence of danger and death.  
    • Nadia and Saeed continue to work, attend school, and date each other, and during this time, the government instills a new evening curfew. At home, every night, they listen to gunfire and fear its entry through their duct-taped windows.
    • The signal to flee home: for Nadia and Saeed, this came after the unprovoked slaughter of their upstairs neighbor.
    • The couple's fate remains uncertain, even after arriving at their destinations. Saeed and Nadia learn that in the eyes of citizens, their presence represents danger.


  • Terrorism – The developing terrorist attacks on Saeed and Nadia's country are the impetus for their departure. However, Saeed's opinion of nationalist groups significantly shifts after he leaves home. Exit West warns of how isolation can lead to terrorist sympathizers.
    • Saeed loathes the extremists responsible for the bloody demise of his cherished family and country.
    • He discovers that the "natives" have already labeled him an enemy whenever he arrives at a new country.
    • Saeed believes only his countries natives will accept him and so, and adopts a nationalist view of people.


  • Migration – The story challenges general assumptions about who are migrants and who has the right to travel.
    • Citizens of safe cities are called "natives," which is intentionally ironic in a universe full of migrants.
    • The mysterious doors transporting people to new territories make it infeasible to infringe on a person's right to travel. Despite the initial upheaval, the world gradually realizes previous statuses of some as migrants and others as natives were arbitrary.


  • Relationships and Love – Nadia and Saeed's high-stakes romance begins as they are beginning new lives as migrants. Under tense circumstances, they fall in love. As they travel through countries, they simultaneously travel through the phases of love.
    • Amidst the turmoil of their country and families, Saeed and Nadia's love blossomed quickly.
    • As they ventured further into the world, the two respond differently to the new challenges that shape them.
    • When it was finally time to move on, their once passionate romance has morphed into a deep brotherly bond.


Chapter 1:

His name was Saeed and her name was Nadia and he had a beard, not a full beard, more a studiously maintained stubble, and she was always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe. Back then people continued to enjoy the luxury of wearing more or less what they wanted to wear, clothing and hair wise, within certain bounds of course, and so these choices meant something.


― Exit West, pg. 3


Chapter 1:


Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians.


― Exit West, pg. 11


Chapter 2:

Refugees had occupied many of the open places in the city, pitching tents in the greenbelts between roads, erecting lean-tos next to the boundary walls of houses, sleeping rough on sidewalks and in the margins of streets. Some seemed to be trying to re-create the rhythms of a normal life, as though it were completely natural to be residing, a family of four, under a sheet of plastic propped up with branches and a few chipped bricks. Others stared out at the city with what looked like anger, or surprise, or supplication, or envy. Others didn’t move at all: stunned, maybe, or resting. Possibly dying. Saeed and Nadia had to be careful when making turns not to run over an outstretched arm or leg.


Exit West, pg. 26-27


Chapter 2:

Nadia at first thought there was no need to say goodbye, that saying goodbye involved a kind of presumption, but then she felt a small sadness, and knew she needed to say goodbye, not for him, for she doubted he would care, but for her. And since they had little to say to one another by phone and instant message seemed too impersonal, she decided to say it in person, outdoors, in a public place, not at his messy, musky apartment, where she trusted herself less, but when she said it, he invited her up, “for one last time,” and she intended to say no but actually said yes, and the sex they had was passionate farewell sex, and it was, not unsurprisingly, surprisingly good.


Later in life she would sometimes wonder what became of him, and she would never know.


Exit West, pg. 34


Chapter 5:


Saeed threatened to carry his father over his shoulder if he needed to, and he had never spoken to his father in this way, and his father took him aside, for he could see the pain he was causing his son, and when Saeed asked why his father was doing this, what could possibly make him want to stay, Saeed’s father said, ‘Your mother is here.’


Saeed said, ‘Mother is gone.’


His father said, ‘Not for me.’


Exit West, pg. 96


Chapter 5:

Saeed’s father then summoned Nadia into his room and spoke to her without Saeed and said that he was entrusting her with his son’s life, and she, whom he called daughter, must, like a daughter, not fail him, whom she called father, and she must see Saeed through to safety, and he hoped she would one day marry his son and be called mother by his grandchildren, but this was up to them to decide, and all he asked was that she remain by Saeed’s side until Saeed was out of danger, and he asked her to promise this to him, and she said she would promise only if Saeed’s father came with them, and he said again that he could not, but that they must go, he said ti softly, like a prayer, and she sat there with him in silence and the minutes passed, and in the end she promised, and it was an easy promise to make because she had at the time no thoughts of leaving Saeed, but it was also a difficult one because in making it she felt she was abandoning the old man, and even if he did have his siblings and his cousins, and might now go live with them or have them come live with him, they could not protect him as Saeed and Nadia could, and so by making the promise he demanded she make she was in a sense killing him, but that is the way of things for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.


Exit West, pg. 97-98


Chapter 7:


Nadia too noticed a friction between them. She was uncertain what to do to disarm the cycles of annoyance they seemed to be entering into with one another, since once begun such cycles are difficult to break, in fact the opposite, as if each makes the threshold for irritation next time a bit lower, as is the case with certain allergies.


Exit West, pg. 133


Chapter 8:


When Saeed told Nadia this good news she did not act like it was good news at all.


'Why would we want to move?' she said.


'To be among our own kind,' Saeed answered.


'What makes them our kind?'


'They’re from our country.'


'From the country we used to be from.'


'Yes.' Saeed tried not to sound annoyed.


'We’ve left that place.'


'That doesn’t mean we have no connection.'


'They’re not like me.'


'You haven’t met them.'


'I don’t need to.' She released a long taught breath.


Exit West, pg. 153



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Hunter Southall ’19

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