We are all migrants through time, bestselling author Mohsin Hamid told a packed audience at the annual One Book One Region event at Conn this fall.
“A human life is a life that is lived through a sequence of moments. Each moment, once it has passed, is gone, and it’s a place we can never return to. That creates a sense of sorrow,” the Exit West author said.
By recognizing the feelings of sadness and sorrow that come from our own sense of loss—of childhood, of the way things were, of the sights and sounds we can no longer experience—we, as humans, can better empathize with the plight of the 68 million people displaced in the world today, Hamid said.
Exit West, Hamid’s highly acclaimed fourth novel, explores various themes of migration as it follows the fictional Saeed and Nadia who flee a country on the brink of civil war and journey through Europe and North America. The novel was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of the best books of 2017 by The New York Times Book Review.
Throughout the hour-long discussion moderated by Assistant Professor of English Marie Ostby, Hamid highlighted the commonalities between people across the world.
“One thing that characterizes the human experience is that everything changes,” he said.
“Yet we are falling victim to an illusion of permanence. … How can we re-engage with transience in a way that acknowledges it is a frightening and sad situation, but also potentially beautiful and hopeful at the same time?”
It’s important for the world to envision a future that is both plausible and desirable, he said, arguing that it’s implausible to expect humans—who have been moving around the world since they evolved—to stay in one place, and undesirable to maintain geographical inequality.
“There’s this idea that the place where you are born, that inequality must be maintained at all cost—the child born in Mogadishu at war should live and die in that place because that is their lot, while the child born in Milan should get to live in a peaceful place. We have to challenge that inequality,” he said.
Thousands of people in the greater New London region read Exit West as part of the One Book One Region of Eastern Connecticut initiative, including all Connecticut College first-year students.