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The Parisian

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  2,713 ratings  ·  445 reviews
A masterful debut novel by Plimpton Prize winner Isabella Hammad, The Parisian illuminates a pivotal period of Palestinian history through the journey and romances 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. Lush and immersive, and devastating in its power, The Parisian is a tour de ...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published December 17th 2019 by Grove Press (first published April 9th 2019)
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Carryl Midhat was imagining his own father in the distance, forgiving him for concealing the letter. Father Antoine thought Midhat had known about his spying…moreMidhat was imagining his own father in the distance, forgiving him for concealing the letter. Father Antoine thought Midhat had known about his spying for the brits, and projected the forgiveness on himself.(less)
aruajuanita These are not "foreign" phrases. The book is about a Palestinian, if you haven't realised and usually Palestinian speak Arabic. Do you speak any other…moreThese are not "foreign" phrases. The book is about a Palestinian, if you haven't realised and usually Palestinian speak Arabic. Do you speak any other language? Because if yes, you would know, that some things can only be said in one language. Please, deconstruct the notion that only pure English books are good books; and Isabella Hammad did a great job doing that. Sad that you did not notice this.(less)
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Isabella Hammad writes of a period of history that frames and depicts one of the most intransigent conflicts of our contemporary world, she covers the can of worms that is the geopolitical nightmare of the incendiary and complex nature of Middle Eastern politics and conflict(s). She does it by giving it a humanity through her characters, specifically a young idealistic Palestinian, Midhat Kamal, from a comfortable background ordered by his father to study medicine in France, from WWI to the peri ...more
Adam Dalva
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book - was really swept away by it - and will say more once it comes out! It does a lot of really good things (transporting historical fiction that is relevant to now, interpersonal drama that kept me hooked) and is simultaneously unusually ambitious.

The early 20th century timeframe is lush and fascinating, and Midhat Kamal, a dreamer between worlds (France, and love; Nablus, and community) is a terrific lead. One to watch out for.
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I was left almost speechless after finishing this novel. A review in one of the magazines caught my attention and I made a quick decision to purchase this novel and give it a chance despite knowing very little about the decline of the Ottoman empire and even less about the birth of the Palestinian nationalism. This is an epic tale of love and seeking identity which begins just after WW1 began and continues for approximately twenty years, moving from France to the Middle East. In my opinion Isabe ...more
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"When I look at my life...I see a whole list of mistakes. Lovely beautiful mistakes. I wouldn't change them". Midhat Kamal reflects on a life lived, beginning in Nablus, a village north of Jerusalem. (On today's West Bank) In 1914, the Ottoman Empire was declining and World War I was on the horizon. In order to avoid conscription in the Turkish Army, Midhat's father, a rich textile merchant, sent him to Montpellier to study medicine. Midhat appeared uneasy but followed his father's dictates. Arr ...more
Roman Clodia
Sometimes it just seems like you've been reading a completely different book from fellow reviewers - this is the case for me here. It's certainly ambitious to attempt to tell the story of the troubled foundations of the Middle East from the First World War through to the mid-1930s or so, taking in the high-handed behaviour of colonial powers (Britain, France), nationalist movements and the promise of a Jewish homeland in Palestine - but I struggled to engage with this as a novel.

The five-page ch
Gumble's Yard
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Now (as I expected) longlisted for the 2020 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction.

Midhat was only half-listening, because he was thinking about the way his own charade might be told after he was dead, when he no longer held the reins on his memories, and they galloped off into the motley thoughts and imaginations of others.

Unlike Midhat – we know the answer to this question.

His great-grandaughter Isabella, bought up on family stories of her great-grandfather Midhat (who returned to the Pa
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5, rounded up
Isabella Hammad’s ambitious, and accomplished historical novel is an auspicious debut and a remarkable achievement for such a young writer. There is little to criticize in such an intelligent and beautifully written book. If there are a few missteps, occurring in the later part of the novel where there is an introduction of many characters and a shift in focus, I thought them minor and forgivable. Internal, political, this was a highly compelling read for me. As any good historic
Some time towards the end of the Ottoman empire, a young Palestinan boy, a son of a successful textile merchant, is sent to France to study medicine. The journey from the city of Nablus in today's Westbank (at the time a part of the empire), to Montpellier in France will be his life’s adventure. But the time spent in France, away from his family, will also be a period of personal change, time of emotional growing-up and maturing, and five years later, when it is time to go home, returning to his ...more
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This sprawling saga tells the story of Midhat Kamal as he leaves his native Nablus (now in the Israeli-occupied West Bank) in 1914, just before the outbreak of war, to study medicine in France. After a stay in Montpellier he spends time in Paris – hence his nickname – before returning to Nablus to take over the family business. Torn between East and West, he feels at home nowhere and seems to remain at one remove from the political turmoil all around him in the years between the two world wars. ...more
Terrific atmospherics, good story, good main character. Too long, too many characters: its length and surfeit of characters detract from its impact. Too much meandering, too many plot odds and ends, twists and turns, some more integral than others. Ending disappointing, not so much unresolved or concluded, just stopped. Look forward to reading her next, more finely honed novel.
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A masterful debut novel by Plimpton Prize winner Isabella Hammad, The Parisian illuminates a pivotal period of Palestinian history through the journey and romances 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.

Midhat Kamal is the son of a wealthy textile merchant from Nablus, a town in Ottoman Palestine. A dreamer, a romantic, an aesthete, in 1914 he leaves to study medicine in France, and falls in love. When
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Parisian seemed promising but fell short. The story was boring and lost me. I couldn't get interested enough to really care about it. Unfortunately, this story was not for me. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Judith E
An educational telling of the evolution of Israel, Palestine, and Syria after WWI and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Slow paced with a melancholy main character.
An interesting story briefly covering the political changes and challenges in the Middle East during the turn from the 19th to 20th century. The geographical changes are briefly covered by following a family’s story across four generations exploring their struggle for recognition, survival, and cultural belonging within the community.
Bryn Hammond
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: imagined-fiction
It's a while since I've been so impressed by a historical novel. But then I love a strongly psychological historical. Midhat seemed as fully realised as a 19th century novel's central figure -- I thought of what Iris Murdoch wrote about how the 19thC explored real people in a way the 20th century eschewed. We have not lost the art. The above was particularly true of the first section set in Montpellier. After this, back in Syria, the historical range of the novel did at times crowd out that inti ...more
Melissa Dee
I know I'm an outlier here, but I did not find “The Parisian” as engrossing as other reviewers. I found it hard to connect with the vast cast of characters. As the scene and time-frame shifted, I lost track and focus.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
You know that feeling you get when you near the end of a book and your heart breaks a little because you don’t want it to end? I only just finished The Parisian, but I already feel a bit lost, suspended in time, missing the characters, and the country I grew to love all over again through Isabella Hammad’s beautiful prose.

It’s funny, because during the first fifth of the book or so there were areas where I struggled, and wondered if I should just leave it and move on to something else. The thing
In her debut novel, Isabella Hammad uses richly-textured prose to invoke the turbulence of the Middle East right after World War I. I have recently read Kurt Seyit and Sura by Nermin Bezmen andThe Carpet Weaver of Usak by Kathryn Gauci, both of which deal roughly with the Middle East pre-, during and post the War to End All Wars.

The nineteen-year-old protagonist, Midhat Kamal, arrives in Montpellier, France, to study medicine. He stays with the a professor of social anthropology at the universit
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I loved reading this novel. Isabella Hammad captured my interest with her story of Midhat Kamal whose life unfolds amid the changing conditions of his city, Nablus--in Palestine--from 1914 through the 1930s. Midhat struggles between wanting a different life in Paris, or somewhere else in the world, and his family ties. He is an observer of life who is always outside of the conflicts around him. Any conflicts Midhat feels are within himself. As he outwardly conforms to traditional family values, ...more
Lynn Horton
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very difficult book for me to review. It has the scope and intricacies and multi-generational cast of a saga, which I seldom prefer. But it’s set in a region I adore, and whose history I’ve studied. So I’m going to break this review into positives and negatives, trying to be fair.

WHAT I LIKED: The setting. The characters. The evocative descriptions. The history woven throughout the story. The beautiful writing that so well depicts the more formal and poetic speech and thought patterns
Kathleen Gray
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A huge immersive experience- a book to get lost in. Midhat Kamal is the Parisian but he's more than that. He's the history of Palestine between 1914 and just before WWII. Moving between France and the Middle East, he exemplifies the ebb and flow for so many during that time frame, and today as well. There are lots of characters, there are some densely written descriptive passages, but once you sink into this, it will reward you with a good story that's also informative. Thanks to the publisher f ...more
Dec 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
From one of the National Book Foundation’s Five Under 35, an ambitious debut novel that takes place in Palestine and France from World War I into the 1930s. The sentence-level writing was excellent, but problems with pacing, transitions and structure detracted from the overall effect.
Lady Fancifull
A subject matter which interested me, a style which did not work for me

I requested this book with high hopes : it interests me to read books whose subject matter is outside my own personal background and experience. Unfortunately, where the subject is complex, and where perhaps there are (as there are here) complex issues, philosophies and discussion points which the writer wants the reader to be engaged by, and ponder, it is crucial that the writer can avoid the kind of ‘talking heads’ scenario
Feb 17, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, contemporary
it started well, and at the beginning i was immersed in midhat kamal’s experience of the trip towards montpellier, his arrival there and the first impressions of his medical studies. after around 90 pages, i started to feel disengaged, the characters didn’t really come to life, the motivations, relationships, dialogues felt empty, unconvincing... even though it is « historical fiction », these are the qualities i am looking for in a book, which engage the reader and keep him/her interested. i wa ...more
Steve Middendorf

I love this intelligently written deeply emotional book. This is set first in France from 1914 to 1917, when a young Palestinian goes abroad to study, and then in Palestine from 1917 to the lead up to World War II. Highly recommended.

Some books, like this one, recall our stake in humanity. For me it began with the horrors of what happened to the Jews in WWII which I assimilated in primary school. But 50 years later, as an emigrant, as I began to study colonialism, and the behaviour of
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Stories of longing were the only stories.”

This impressive debut opens at the time of the First World War. Midhat Kamal is a young Palestinian from Nablus, despatched by his patriarchal father to study medicine in Montpellier. There, he stays at the home of a professor at the college, Docteur Molineu, who extends the warmest of welcomes. Midhat falls desperately in love with Molineu’s daughter Jeannette. But when Midhat discovers what he considers to be a dreadful personal betrayal, his life cha
James Murphy
Dec 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I was aware of the splash The Parisian made when it was published last year. But I was slow coming to it, thinking it a low priority in what to read. But dutifully, inevitably, as books submerged in my tbr lists do, The Parisian bobbed to the surface, and I began to read.

I found it to be a delicious meal of a novel. There's a lot in it--story and style--to chew on. Isabella Hammad weaves her primary themes--love, Arab nationalism, and Palestinian politics, even the politics of love since this is
Apr 13, 2019 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
I was becoming thoroughly absorbed in this beautifully-written story, transported to the past while remaining firmly in the present, when my ARC expired :(
Ari Levine
I was intrigued by rave reviews in the NYTimes and Guardian, but this reading experience didn't repay the substantial investment of time. This is an ambitious attempt at writing a lengthy Flaubertian late-nineteenth-century novel about the life of an early-twentieth-century man moving between France and Palestine, from youthful innocence to middle-aged experience.

But after an focused and moving first third about a youthful love affair ruined by Orientalist racism, Hammad loses control of the st
Rick Slane
Palestinian gets some education in France before returning to Nablus. Action takes place during
World War I and before World War II.
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Hammad was born in London. She is the winner of the 2018 Plimpton Prize for Fiction. The Parisian is her first novel.

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“It occurred to Midhat that a tragic story told quickly might contract easily into a comedy, and without the measure of its depths make the audience laugh.” 5 likes
“For the first time in his life, Midhat wished he were more religious. Of course he prayed, but though that was a private mechanism it sometimes felt like a public act, and the lessons of the Quran were lessons by rote, one was steeped in them, hearing them so often. They were the texture of his world, and yet they did not occupy that central, vital part of his mind, the part that was vibrating at this moment, on this train, rattling forward while he struggled to hold all these pieces. As a child he had felt some of the same curiosity he held for the mysteries of other creeds—for Christianity with its holy fire, the Samaritans with their alphabets—but that feeling had dulled while he was still young, when traditional religion began to seem a worldly thing, a realm of morals and laws and the same old stories and holidays. They were acts, not thoughts. He faced the water now along the coast, steadying his gaze on the slow distance, beyond the blur of trees pushing past the tracks, on the desolate fishing boats hobbling over the waves. He sensed himself tracing the lip of something very large, something black and well-like, a vessel which was at the same time an emptiness, and he thought, without thinking precisely, only feeling with the tender edges of his mind, what the Revelation might have been for in its origin. Why it was so important that they could argue to the sword what it meant if God had hands, and whether He had made the universe. Underneath it all was a living urgency, that original issue of magnitude; the way several hundred miles on foot could be nothing to the mind, Nablus to Cairo, one thought of a day’s journey by train, but placed vertically that same distance in depth exposed the body’s smallness and suddenly one thought of dying. Did one need to face the earth, nose to soil, to feel that distance towering above? There was something of his own mortality in this. Oh then but why, in a moment of someone else’s death, must he think of his own disappearance?” 4 likes
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