Nadia and Saeed first meet at an evening class. They live in an unnamed city in an unnamed country “still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war.” Their relationship is at once modern and yet conservative, and each is still learning about the other when the fighting intensifies. Militants wage war on the government and people are killed, or disappear. Whole neighbourhoods are razed to the ground. Saeed’s mother is amongst the dead, and this horrific event leads Nadia and Saeed to discuss the risks of staying in their home city and the possibility of finding safety elsewhere.
All over the world, doors have opened. Doors of darkness which lead to other cities, other countries. Swathes of people have begun moving west, and Nadia and Saeed decide to join them. Risking their lives to travel through the doors, they arrive first in Mykonos, then London, and join fellow refugees settling in abandoned houses in the capital. But building a life and a home proves to be much more difficult.
There is a dystopian, magical realism element to this book. The world it is set in is not completely our own: doors allow people to move from country to country in the blink of an eye; London is a city divided, where migrants shelter in houses abandoned by their owners whilst the refugees themselves are abandoned by humanity. Like all good fiction, it holds up a large mirror to our own world and the story it tells is one which is being played out across the globe right now. This is a book about what drives people to make the journey and what happens once the journey is done. It’s about trying to settle into a new country when the country itself is trying to reject you. It’s about the impact this has on a relationship. It’s about being forced to leave your home and giving up all you were just to stay alive.
It would be easy to read this review and imagine a heavy book, full of despair. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The writing is beautiful. Elegant, yet simple. Vignettes of the lives of fellow travellers who have passed through the doors are dotted within the main story of Nadia and Saeed. They are never more than a few pages long and we never learn the names of these characters, but their stories are full of hope which is the lingering emotion left after the last page.