Why doesn’t Hamid name Saeed and Nadia’s city or country?

Hamid doesn’t name Saeed and Nadia’s country in order to suggest that their home country or city could be any country or city, highlighting that any human could become a refugee. Although the narrator includes some details that might make the reader assume their country is somewhere in South Asia or the Middle East, s/he emphasizes the things that make this city legibly modern and reasonably prosperous, such as its universities, advertising agencies, and shopping malls. The narrator further notes that this city has taken in refugees, implying that some people would consider this city an improvement or safe haven in the case of a crisis. Saeed’s home in the city is a loving and peaceful place, appealing to readers, who can relate to its universal themes of family and support. In these ways, the city is both anonymous and universal, reflecting locations and themes that are relevant to all people.

As the unnamed city does not reflect preconceived notions of a place that could be destroyed by war, Saeed and Nadia challenge preconceptions of who refugees are. They are both reasonably well-off and well-educated individuals with stable lives, making them people we might not expect to have to flee for their lives. While the frightened dark-skinned man in Chapter 1 or the awed Sri Lankan family in Chapter 4 might match stereotypical depictions of frightened refugees as poor or vulnerable, Saeed and Nadia remind us that not all refugees fit this profile. In these way, not naming the city reminds readers to treat refugees with the dignity that we would want, for we, too, may become refugees someday.

Does the stress of migration break up Saeed and Nadia, or are they just fundamentally incompatible?

Rather than the stress of migration, the freedom of stability actually creates the final rift in Saeed and Nadia’s relationship. Although Saeed and Nadia have differences that may have caused strife throughout their relationship, the freedom they find from immigrating to Marin ultimately causes their breakup. For example, in their home country, where their religion is the default, Nadia doesn’t mind Saeed’s piousness because he doesn’t force it on her. Conversely, her irreligiousness doesn’t bother him because he’s surrounded by others who feel similarly about his religion, and thus he feels secure in his religious practice. However, outside of their country, Saeed finds religion even more important because it connects him to his culture and his family from afar, and Nadia’s rejection feels more personal. Without a religious default, Nadia finds Saeed’s religiousness increasingly stifling. When Saeed has the freedom to explore his spirituality in Marin without the threat of violence, he draws close to the preacher’s daughter, not merely because she’s religious but because he relates to her relationship with religion and her underlying values.

In Nadia’s case, traveling to a country that accepts the existence of bisexuality gives her the opportunity to question her sexuality without fear and pursue a relationship with a woman. The political stability in Marin also give Nadia the ability to leave her physical home with Saeed and safely establish herself as an independent woman, something that would not have been possible in Mykonos or Dark London. This freedom to explore and find people whose values actually match theirs causes Saeed and Nadia’s differences to become insurmountable. The stress of migration—the political instability, threat of violence, and need to hold on to someone familiar—actually bound them together. When this stress is removed, they can move on in their lives.

How does Hamid use the word “native” throughout the novel and why??

Hamid’s use of the word “native” as opposed to “citizen” serves to question what it means to be native or indigenous to somewhere. In the London section, the word “native” stands out because of its history in British writing to refer to Britain’s colonial subjects, who were often portrayed as irrational or unintelligent. The use of “native” here turns the colonial narrative on its head, with people of color viewing white British people as unreasonable and even hostile, evoking Britain’s colonial past and revealing the hypocrisy of their anti-migrant stance. Hamid further reveals the hypocrisy inherent in the British concept of indigeneity in the narrator’s discussion of the digger driver’s wife. Nadia assumes the woman is natively British, but it turns out that she’s merely a white woman who immigrated from an English-speaking country. Unlike the refugees, she holds a supervisory position, suggesting that both her whiteness and her length of time in the country have conferred an honorary native-ness upon her. 

In the Marin section, the use of the word “native” questions the American understanding of who actually comes from the United States. Because the word “native” in the British section refers to (primarily) white British citizens, the narrator’s comment that most of the natives in Marin are dead initially confuses the reader, until the narrator makes it clear that s/he means the indigenous nations who lived in Marin before European colonialism. This cognitive dissonance serves as a reminder that the United States began with a mass migration of Europeans to an already inhabited continent. In the United States, the narrator uses “native” to refer to Native Americans, Black descendants of enslaved Africans, and other citizens of the United States. The diverse and complicated relationship these three groups have with each other also destabilizes the concept of native because people cannot agree on what it means and what actually confers native status on a person.