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A novel inspired by the plight of refugees is among the six titles shortlisted for the £50,000 ManBooker Prize.

Exit West is by Pakistan-born Mohsin Hamid, who was shortlisted for the prize in 2007 with The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It joins 4321 by Paul Auster, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Autumn by Ali Smith.

Exit West is set in an unnamed city, shaken by conflict and swollen by refugees. It tells the story of Saeed and Nadia who fall in love in school. They try not to notice the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the curfews and the public executions.

Eventually the problem is too big to ignore: it’s not safe for Nadia to live alone and she must move in with Saeed, even though they are not married. Meanwhile, rumours are spreading of strange black doors in secret places across the city, doors that lead to Dubai or London, San Francisco or Greece. One day soon the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to seek out one such door, joining the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world.

Hamid writes regularly for The New York Times, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books. Born in 1971, he was mostly raised in Lahore, and has since lived between Lahore, London and New York.

The chair of the judges, Lola, Baroness Young said: “The story of Exit West focuses on the movement of large numbers of people across the globe in search of freedom and a new life of one kind or another…Saeed and Nadia are two of the many millions of people ready to sacrifice what they have for what they might gain, even as they recognise what they’re losing. By leaving out precise details of exactly which murderous ideological factions have dragged Nadia and Saeed’s hometown to the brink of destruction, Hamid allows us as readers to refer to our own knowledge and experience. In one sense, it doesn’t matter who is perpetrating the violence – it’s about those caught up literally and metaphorically in the cross-fire.”

The winner will be announced at the Guildhall in London on Tuesday, 17 October, with the ceremony filmed by the BBC.