The reader is left with the impression that their home is somewhere in the Middle East, although truthfully, for all we know, it could just as easily be Detroit or Memphis or Des Moines. We do know that the two have brown skin and that Saeed is a committed Muslim who prays regularly and that Nadia is independent and non-religious, although she wears the black robe of a Muslim woman as a kind of disguise.
I think all of this non-specificity is meant to make the characters into kind of Everypersons, someone with whom every reader can identify. There is also a surreal and magical realism element to their story, all of which made it a bit difficult for me to...assimilate. But in the end, I felt it all worked pretty well and my frustration with some of the vagueness of the story was secondary to the fact that I felt empathy for the characters and through them I was perhaps better able to understand the plight of refugees.
For this story is about refugees and the mass migration of people from one area of the world to another because of political and religious conflicts, as well as for economic and climate reasons. The device which the author uses to get his refugees from one place to another is one of the aforementioned magic realism elements - a kind a magic door which they pass through.
Saeed and Nadia originally pass through one of the doors in their city and end up on the Greek island of Mykonos, where they live for a time in a crowded camp of other refugees from various parts of the world. Later they pass through another magic door and come to London. Once again they are in a community of world refugees, a community that is resented and hated by nativists who harass and try to push them out. In time, an agreement is worked out to allow the refugees to live their lives and to receive some minimal support and assistance from the government.
Soon, however, Nadia and Saeed again grow restive as they also seem to be growing apart and they decide to try door number three. This time they find themselves in Marin, California. They set about making lives for themselves there but continue to grow apart and to pursue different directions in their lives.
This is a story that is drenched in sadness and loss, but is also hopeful as the migrant refugees keep overcoming barriers and striving toward something better for themselves. It sympathetically explores the contemporary migrant experience that is so much a part of our world. There is much violence and bloodshed in the story but it mostly occurs offstage so we only hear about it second-hand. It was a story that gave me much to contemplate and left me to acknowledge the truth of a couple of lines from the book:
“We are all migrants through time.”
“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”My rating: 4 of 5 stars