As the Caravan moves away from intolerable homes in search of civilization, I have just closed the door on two books that present to our planet the case for opening doors.
Pakistani novelist (b. 1971) Mohsin Hamid gave us Exit West last year (New York: Riverhead Books, 2017). The story begins with a Middle Eastern boy-girl meeting in the midst of civil war. The country being nameless makes it read like a parable, and the delicate, poetic style gives it the ambience of a symphonic tone poem (He studied with Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison).
The couple open the door on their romance and new careers in this unnamed city only to
find the doors soon bombed shut. They trust a go-between with their money to transport them across the Mediterranean, this door opening in Greece. Soon, still unsettled, they find another door that opens in London. After initially feeling safe, they fear an imminent attack by an uprising of local racial purists. Writes Hamid:
But a week passed. And then another. And then the natives and their forces stepped back from the brink.
Perhaps they had decided they did not have it in them to do what would have needed to be done, to corral and bloody and where necessary slaughter the migrants, and had determined that some other way would have to be found. Perhaps they had grasped that the doors could not be closed, and new doors would continue to open, and they had understood that the denial of coexistence would have required one party to cease to exist, and the extinguishing party too would have been transformed in the process, and too many native parents would not after have been able to look their children in the eye, to speak with head held high of what their generation had done. Or perhaps the sheer number of places where there were now doors had made it useless to fight in any one. (p. 166)
That mob retreated, perhaps reluctant to kill off the ghetto, perhaps shamed at the thought of how their grandchildren would regard them. It seems that they listened to their better nature.
Khaled Hosseini, born in Afghanistan in 1965 and now practicing medicine and writing novels in California (The Kite Runner—Riverhead, 2003; A Thousand Splendid Suns—Riverhead, 2007; And the Mountains Echoed—Riverhead, 2013), has followed on Hamid’s tone poem with a poem of his own. Sea Prayer (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018) was Inspired by the 2015 story of a three-year-old Syrian refugee who perished as his family tried to enter Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This thin volume is thick with meaning, as Hamid’s verse is accompanied by visual moods in water color. He prays that the world will open doors, will listen to their better natures, will see the humanity in misfortune in this closing plea:
All of us impatient for sunrise,
all of us in dread of it.
All of us in search of home.
I have heard it said we are the uninvited.
We are the unwelcome.
We should take our misfortune elsewhere.
But I hear your mother’s voice,
over the tide,
and she whispers in my ear,
“Oh, but if they saw, my darling,
Even half of what you have,
If only they saw,
They would say kinder things, surely.”
This, as troops form a wall on the southern border. Surely we can find a better way. Said Graham Greene (in The Power and the Glory, 1940), “Hate is a lack of imagination.”