About the Book
A masterful first novel by award-winning twenty-seven-year-old Isabella Hammad, The Parisian charts a young man’s coming-of-age journey from his small town in Palestine to France during World War I, then home again to a country in the fledgling stage of its century-long battle for independence.
Midhat Kamal is the son of a wealthy textile merchant from Nablus, a town in Ottoman Palestine. In 1914 he leaves to study medicine in France, and falls in love. A dreamer, a romantic, an aesthete—when he returns to Nablus to find it under British rule, and the entire region erupting with nationalist fervor, he must find a way to cope with his conflicting loyalties and the expectations of his community. The story of Midhat’s life develops alongside the idea of a nation, as he and those close to him confront what it means to strive for independence in a world that seems on the verge of falling apart.
Against a landscape of political change that continues to define the Middle East, The Parisian explores questions of power and identity, the subject and the subjected, enduring love, and the uncanny ability of the past to disrupt the present. Lush and immersive, devastating in its power, The Parisian is an elegant, richly-imagined debut from a dazzling new voice in fiction.
Advance Praise for The Parisian
“The Parisian is a sublime reading experience: delicate, restrained, surpassingly intelligent, uncommonly poised and truly beautiful. It is realism in the tradition of Flaubert and Stendhal – everything that happens feels not so much imagined as ordained. That this remarkable historical epic should be the debut of a writer in her mid-twenties seems impossible, yet it’s true. Isabella Hammad is an enormous talent and her book is a wonder.”—Zadie Smith
“The Parisian is extraordinary—wise, ambitious, and lavishly rewarding. With luminous prose and rare compassion, Isabella Hammad offers her readers an absorbing story of war and identity, of love and independence, of hope and history. It’s an astonishing novel, heralding the arrival of a major talent.”—Bret Anthony Johnston
“The Parisian is a lushly imagined, beautifully written, expansive powerhouse of a debut. Isabella Hammad is a great new voice.”—Nathan Englander
“Isabella Hammad powerfully and beautifully evokes the times of a century ago, and the places of Nablus in Palestine, and the Paris of then, along with every other place portrayed, in a novel immersed in a period of incredible change. The pull of modernity, the cast of colonial control, the aspirations for independence and freedom, and how they play out in the life of a young man growing into all of these things. along with his own coming to age, is written of with surpassing nuance and knowing. By better knowing the ‘then’ and ‘there’ of this remarkable, empathetic book, and the world it portrays, we come to better know our own here and now.” —Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company
There was one other Arab onboard the ship to Marseille. His name was Faruq al-Azma, and the day after leaving port in Alexandria he approached Midhat at breakfast, with a plate of toast in one hand and a string of amber prayer beads in the other. He sat, tugged at the cuffs of his shirt, and started to describe without any introduction how he was returning from Damascus to resume his teaching post in the language department of the Sorbonne. He had left Paris at the outbreak of war but after the Miracle of the Marne was deter-mined to return. He had grey eyes and a slightly rectangular head.
“Al-Baris.” He sighed. “It is where my life is.”
To young Midhat Kamal, this statement was highly suggestive. In his mind a gallery of lamps directly illuminated a dance hall full of women. He looked closely at Faruq’s clothes. He wore a pale blue three-piece suit, and an indigo tie with a silver tiepin in the shape of a bird. A cane of some dark unpainted wood leaned against the table.
“I am going to study medicine,” he said. “At the University of Montpellier.”
“Bravo,” said Faruq.
Midhat smiled as he reached for the coffeepot. Muscles he had not known were tense began to relax.
“This is your first visit to France,” said Faruq.
Midhat said nothing, assenting.