Exploring Boundaries in “Exit West”


From left, RIC juniors Joseph Ricci, Skyler Davis and Amy Irons performed their spoken word poem at this year’s Open Books – Open Minds Student Conference​

In “Exit West,” a college-age couple flee their homeland at war. They learn of doors – fantastical portals – that lead to distant lands. Migrants swarm through these doors in overwhelming numbers. The couple join them, and as they move from one door to the next and from one country to another, their love is tested, they must learn strategies for survival and decide to either stay or find another door.

This allegorical tale written by Mohsin Hamid provides a visceral experience of the plight of refugees. Throughout the year and across disciplines, RIC students engaged in research inspired by the novel, and on April 12 at the 8th Annual Open Books – Open Minds (OBOM) Student Conference they presented their research via panel discussions and creative presentations. 

English major Nicole Gerard titled her research paper “Doors to Rebirth: Gender, Sexuality and the Transformation of Migration in Mohsin Hamid’s ‘Exit West.’” 

“In a world where boundaries between countries are becoming less and less defined, where people of different cultures are mixing, ‘Exit West’ shows us how mixing doesn’t weaken us but makes us stronger and better,” she said. “My paper is specifically about how this mixing of different people is not limited to nationality and race but includes gender and sexuality.”

Amy Irons, Joseph Ricci and Skyler Davis worked collaboratively to produce a poetic response to “Exit West.”  

“We wrote a poem in spoken word form titled ‘Exit West in Fewer Words,’” said Irons, a secondary education major. “Keeping Hamid’s language in mind, our poem reflects the characters’ emotional turmoil as they journey through the doors. It also reflects the shared experiences and emotions immigrants have as they leave their homes and seek refuge in other nations.”

World-renowned photographer Thierry Cohen, who is referenced in the book, shared his family story of migration and artistic vision in the keynote lecture.

“Overall, the campus-wide response to ‘Exit West’ has been excellent,” said OBOM Co-Chair and Assistant Professor of English Brandon Hawk. Many faculty, staff and students have expressed appreciation for Hamid’s use of storytelling to highlight the real issues of global migration.”

This conference​ was the culmination of a full academic year of OBOM programming around “Exit West” that included a summer reading group; a faculty-led discussion of strategies for teaching “Exit West”; a film screening of “Human Flow,” directed by Ai Weiwei; and student-led discussions by OBOM mentors. OBOM mentors work closely with faculty across the curriculum to lead class discussi​ons on the common book and are active participants in OBOM event planning. ​

“‘Exit West’ in Fewer Words”

Darkness engulfs me as I
Escape everything I ever

The last thing I saw was
All trying to reach their

Their faces are stricken as they
Are pushed towards the
Clutching the hands of their loved ones.
It is

I pause as I
Grasp the handle.
My body is frozen with

He urges.
His eyes are tired,

I inhale the last breath I’ll take
From my home.
A home that is no longer
With heaviness in my chest,
I open the door, one that will
Take me to a strange

My stomach lurches as I
Take my first step.
Everything is dark.
I tremble as I trudge towards the

I gasp violently
I stumble, and
Fall to my knees.
I shield my face from the
Harsh air.
Where am I?

The light becomes closer.
I am here.
With tremendous force,
I pry open the
Mysterious door.

I collapse to the dusty ground.
I am met by crowds of people like me.
But I am lost in a
Home that is
Not my own.
I am alone.

Despair overwhelms my soul as I
Struggle to take my first breaths,
Still trembling on the dirty ground.

The door rushes open, and
It is him.
He painfully surrenders to the
We peer at each other, and
Gaze into our lost faces.

I release a quiet sob.
We both glance towards the door, and
Then to the new world.
Where are we?

He places his hand in mine,
and we stop to think about our
Life now.

We gather ourselves to our
It is time to move forward, 
To heal,
and to become accustomed to our
New lives.

It is our