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Mohsin Hamid annotates the first page of his novel, ‘Exit West’

Mohsin Hamid’s novel “Exit West,” which follows two lovers on the move from a country on the brink of civil war, is our March pick for the new PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This.” Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here.

“Exit West” begins quietly, despite what’s to come, with a man and a woman meeting in an evening class on corporate identity and product branding.

Yet the first page also gestures at the violence ahead, mentioning that Saeed and Nadia are in an unnamed city “mostly” at peace, “not yet” at war — that it is one of multiple cities “teetering” toward something worse.

The novel, which is grounded in the real but also plays with the surreal, escalates from there. Like millions today worldwide, Saeed and Nadia are forced to leave their city. Below, author Mohsin Hamid annotates the first page to tell readers what he was thinking as he wrote it.

From page 1

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. For many days. 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.

It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class—in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding—but that is…