The Parisian by Isabella Hammad
A sweeping tale that charts many years in the life of a young Palestinian man, The Parisian's themes and characters will remain with audiences long after the novel is over
The Parisian charts the life of a young Palestinian man, Midhat, who travels to France at the start of the First World War to study medicine. His years in France teach him much about love, friendship, family and the ever-challenging world of politics. On his return home to Palestine, he struggles to settle into his given role, taking over the family business and marriage, while the political landscape crumbles beneath his feet.
This debut is impressive – it is a sweeping tale that charts many years in the life of Midhat and some of his close family and friends. Admittedly, the characters are numerous in the novel (there is a handy list at the start of the book) which occasionally can be difficult to keep up with, but each strand of narrative is both necessary to the story and a joy to read.
Hammad delicately deals with complicated issues all at once: self-identity, cultural identity, women’s rights. It is a rich treasure chest of beautifully written passages transporting you to the night-time streets of Nablus. This balance of the emotional with historical sweeps the reader up into the story and carries them to the end.
Some way through the novel, Midhat notices that his ‘thoughts had a way of travelling back, like water on a skewed floor’. The reader can expect the same; the themes of The Parisian and the characters will return to them time and time again, long after the novel is finished.