Summary: Chapter 8

Although the electricity remains on in a few scattered places around the edges of Saeed and Nadia’s neighborhood, most places have gone dark. This makes the neighborhoods with electricity look even brighter. At night in Dark London, surveillance drones fly overhead. Violence and crime increases, which some people blame on nativist mobs and others on other migrants. Amongst the migrants, people begin to cluster by country of origin. The people in Saeed and Nadia’s house are primarily Nigerian. 

Nadia starts attending the council meetings held by the elders of the house. At first, the others seem surprised because of her youth and nationality, but one of Nadia’s neighbors, an old woman, motions for Nadia to stand by her. Nadia enjoys the council meetings and connecting with others. The other residents respect her except for a young woman her age who wears a leather jacket.

Saeed feels outnumbered and alone. One day, the woman in the leather jacket blocks Saeed from walking through the hallway. The woman refuses to move, and Saeed turns to walk away but finds himself face to face with a tough-seeming man. The woman makes a little space for Saeed to get through, and he rushes back to his room, frightened and embarrassed.

Saeed finds a house with people from their country and begins to spend time there. Praying with them makes him feel like part of something large and human. An older man with a graying beard offers him tea. The man says Saeed and Nadia can move into the house, but they can’t share a room. All men sleep on one floor and women on another because they believe it’s the most decent way to fit so many people into one house. Saeed suggests they move, but Nadia doesn’t want to sacrifice their private room. She doesn’t consider the residents of the other house, despite being her countrymen, to truly be her people. Saeed wonders why he’s so willing to give up the private room. He thinks back fondly on their old country because he misses how he once felt about Nadia. 

The elders’ council agrees that they have to keep the youth from forming an armed resistance lest they bring violence down on everyone. Nadia isn’t sure she agrees because she’s seen what happens when a city surrenders. 

At the house with the citizens of Saeed and Nadia’s country, the man with the graying beard speaks of martyrdom as a righteous outcome. Although Saeed finds his speech moving, the words remind him of the militants, and he’s ashamed. He takes a gun the man offers him, as much to protect him from the Nigerians as from the nativists. Saeed expects Nadia will be angry about the gun, but she’s not. They have passionate sex that night. Saeed realizes he doesn’t know how to use the gun.

The British government makes a show of force by parading drones and tanks. The drones in particular frighten Saeed and Nadia because they are entirely robotic.

Nadia can get weak cell service around the outskirts of Dark London. One day, while checking the news on her phone, she sees a photo of her checking her phone at that moment on the internet. She finds it jarring, as if there are two alternate versions of her. However, the woman in the photo is actually not her. Nadia wonders if by leaving her country she’s simply changed one source of conflict for another. However, she finds being surrounded by many different people liberating. She always felt stifled in her home country.

The operation to clear the migrants from Dark London begins with gunfire. Nadia and Saeed hide in their room with the mattress pressed against the window. Announcements sound asking the migrants to leave peacefully. The next few days are quiet, but all the soup kitchens have been shut down. The house’s elder council starts rationing food.

Nadia worries that she forced Saeed to leave their country. Saeed worries that he will not be able to protect Nadia. Nadia admits she can understand the nativists’ fear because they did take their houses. Saeed disagrees, citing the refugees in their home country. They talk about what it’s like to die. Saeed suggests it’s like falling asleep.

Two weeks pass, and the British forces stop fighting. No one knows why they change course, whether it was guilt, conscience, or admitting defeat to the growing number of doors. Everyone celebrates as power is restored to the neighborhood.

Analysis: Chapter 8

The British government’s show of force and power in this chapter demonstrates how taking an active stance against vulnerable refugees necessitates a loss of one’s own humanity and moral high ground. The power outage that the government uses to strike with first echoes the power outage that the militants used in their siege of Saeed and Nadia’s city. In both cases, the ability to take electrical power away from people signals control over the infrastructure that creates civilization, metaphorically demonstrating that whoever controls the infrastructure controls civilization. Instead of using public executions like the militants, the British government uses displays of military might like tanks and drones, but both tactics serve the same goal of intimidation. Nadia explicitly compares the British government to the militants while considering her situation, again signaling that the behavior of the government of a wealthy country has decayed to that of a violent militant group. Saeed and Nadia particularly fear the drones because drones are robots, making it seem like they face a war machine instead of human beings and signally the inhumanity at work in attempts to displace the migrants. Finally, the soup kitchen closures at the start of the siege imply that the government has actively stopped compassionate people from helping the vulnerable, a truly inhumane tactic.

Chapter 8 questions the idea of nationalism and what it means to belong to a place. Within this chapter, nationalist tendencies consistently lead to violence. The migrants divide up by nationality because they do not trust each other, creating division and strife amongst the oppressed. Saeed’s fear of the Nigerians in his house drives him to procure a dangerous weapon that he does not know how to use. Nadia’s questioning of Saeed’s willingness to give up a private room just to live with people from their country of origin forces Saeed to reckon with why he seeks out the familiar. As we have seen in previous chapters, Saeed has faced migration with a focus on what he has left behind. The man with the graying beard, with his warm welcome and offer of tea, likely reminds Saeed of his father. The house also allows him to pray in a group as he once did, which has always made him feel peaceful. Most complicatedly, Nadia’s comment reminds Saeed of how he preferred how their relationship functioned in their country. He wants them to belong together, which he doesn’t feel can be the case unless they relate to the same cultural identity. Though his focus on the past and adherence to nationalism, Saeed risks ruining his relationship with Nadia, though he gains peace through closeness with his countrymen.

Nadia’s love of multiculturalism introduces a different vision of a life rooted in freedom and diversity. As we have seen, Nadia’s life in her country of origin involved continually concocting ways to avoid danger and censure just for behaving in ways that felt natural to her. Away from the strong cultural norms, Nadia has flourished. From the time she arrives in Mykonos, she treats migration as a kind of adventure, and she has managed to make friends with different kinds of people. We see a similar spirit of adventure in the British accountant, who saves his own life by traveling to Namibia and rebuilding his life there. Although we do not know exactly what about Namibia makes his life there preferable to life in London, from the little detail we have, we can infer he may, too, have felt stifled or lonely. For Nadia and the accountant, origins and heritage matter less than the freedom to engage with and learn from new kinds of people and places.

The way each character reacts to the impending violence depends largely on their relationship to their own mortality. The elders in Saeed and Nadia’s house encourage a passive approach to attack. Saeed and Nadia do not agree with this approach, in part because they are not ready to face their own mortality. Nadia, from experience, knows that not resisting can equal surrender, so she associates the elders’ pacifist approach with accepting the possibility of dying. Although the man with the graying beard does not advocate violence in the way the militants do, his willingness to see human life sacrificed to make a larger point does harken back to the militants’ use of public execution to set an example. Both believe death can serve a higher purpose, which Saeed doesn’t want to believe because he does not want to die. Saeed imagines himself fighting back because he brings the gun home, and Nadia embraces him because it symbolizes a willingness to fight for life. Only after the siege begins, with neither of them ultimately able to fight, do they actually discuss the possibility of death.