It was the sort of view that might command a slight premium during gentler, more prosperous times, but would be most undesirable in times of conflict, when it would be squarely in the path of heavy machine-gun and rocket fire as fighters advanced into this part of town. . . . Location, location, location, the realtors say. Geography is destiny, respond the historians.

The narrator makes this comment in Chapter 2, when describing the apartment Saeed and his parents live in. This quotation speaks to the power of violence and war to completely transform beautiful, beloved places into dangerous places. Notably, although the essence of what the realtors and historians say is the same—“the place you are in changes everything”—the realtors turn their eyes on the present or future enjoyment of a client, whereas the historian looks back on that location’s effect with hindsight. So while the realtor sees a beautiful view, the historian, who knows what became of that beautiful view, can only see the place as ill-fated. We see this effect throughout the early chapters in the novel as violence transforms Saeed and Nadia’s city from a bustling metropolis into a war zone. For example, they find the abandoned shopping mall where they initially meet the agent terrifying, but we can presume that in peacetime it was bustling and lively. Without the lens of war, no one would consider a shopping mall inherently dangerous, just as in peacetime no one would think Saeed’s family’s apartment ill-placed.

This quotation also prefigures how time and experience change the way Saeed and Nadia relate to the world around them. For example, when choosing a space to live in the London house, they focus primarily on finding a room that has an escape route instead of whether they like the room or its size. Their understanding of how safe places can become dangerous has given them the historian’s view of their new shelter, and they approach the London house with a particular eye for how it might become unsafe. This model also applies to how they relate to each other. Things that they liked about each other in their home country feel different after the stress of migrating. For example, Saeed initially finds the contrast between Nadia’s conservative robe and her rebellious nature attractive. However, when he realizes that Nadia will continue to use this robe as a shield outside their country, he sees it as something insincere and off putting, a reminder that Nadia doesn’t feel comfortable with their culture. Without losing his home city where his culture was the majority, Saeed might never have seen Nadia’s robe in such a negative light.