BookBrowse Reviews The Parisian by Isabella Hammad

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The Parisian

by Isabella Hammad

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad X
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2019, 576 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2019, 576 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg
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The journey of one young man, from his studies in France during World War I to his return to Palestine at the dawn of its battle for independence.

Brilliantly vivid and luxuriously expansive, Isabelle Hammad's The Parisian is the perfect book to take along on a trip. Hammad's prose works better than a time machine. Transported to the onset of World War I, you can feel the tension and taste the fear that ripples all the way from Palestine to France.

The story follows Midhat Kamal, a young student whose wealthy father sends him to Montpellier to study medicine and escape military service. Sensitive and thoughtful, Midhat thrives in his studies and falls deeply in love, both with his romantic notions of France and his host's beautiful daughter. Yet even with his fluent French Midhat cannot escape his origins, nor the prejudices that accompany them. Returning home after the war, he struggles to assimilate into a new Palestine, one rampant with conflict and violence.

Hammad creates a rich tapestry of human experience. Although Midhat is the central character, his circle of family, friends, and acquaintances also get their time in the spotlight. We are given equal access to the minds of French students and those of Palestinian rebels. We hear from priests, soldiers, and merchants. The result is kaleidoscopic—it is impossible to observe one point of view without also considering all the others that came before. No single person, not even Midhat, is given more deference than any of the others. They are all equal in their flawed humanity.

The novel walks a fine line between genres—it is a touching love story, but it is also a tale of a nation in the throes of being born. And though falling in the realm of historical fiction, The Parisian does not dally with extensive historical detail; it is much more concerned with concepts and viewpoints. In fact, there is little dialogue and the majority of our time is spent following the thoughts of one character or another. However, it is impossible not to learn something about the current crisis in the Middle East and its origins.

Thought-provoking, beautifully rendered, and rife with emotion, The Parisian is a gorgeous, lengthy read. Hammad has achieved something quite impressive with this glowing debut.

Reviewed by Natalie Vaynberg

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in April 2019, and has been updated for the January 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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