The Parisian

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

This is a very well written book and interesting from the historical perspective. However, there were some character issues, with surprising decisions coming from the characters. In addition, the pacing was slow at times and seemed to need more editing to improve it. I enjoyed the atmosphere and history but the pace and points of view were bothersome and distracting. 

#TheParisian #NetGalley
Was this review helpful?
It took me a while to get through this, but I was glad I did.  While it wasn’t an “I can’t put this book down”, it did hold my interest.  Although the story focuses on Midhat Kamal, a Palestinian educated in Paris before returning home, the broader context of the history of  Palestine during the early 20th century is an important one. 

The author’s writing is lyrical, especially her descriptions. I thought that the beginning Paris portion of the novel a bit overlong and the liberal use of untranslated French and Arabic sometimes disrupted the flow.  Despite these shortcomings, this is a very worthwhile read.
Was this review helpful?
With some great, momentous and true historical details forming the backdrop for the forty-one years of the life of the first born of Haji Taher, the tale loses its appeal early on, though writing and progression is okay. Thanks to the publisher for the ARC. The best thing about it is the rich period detail. The worst is the main character, Midhat, who was just blowing in the wind, a passive-aggressive person, really.
Was this review helpful?
Midhat Kamal dreams of his bright future as he travels to Paris during WWI to attend university, in The Parisian. While there the young Palestinian discovers love, loss and the bitter bite of prejudice.

After the war Kamal returns to a Palestine under British rule where he begins to learn his family textile business and start a family. But as political tensions erupt in the region, he can’t help but be swept along in the flow.

Isabella Hammad has a beautiful writing style and has a lot of material to work with in The Parisian (digital galley, Grove Press). Unfortunately the plot moves at a sluggish pace and the story often ebbs. If you have the time, Hammad’s vivid descriptions and wonderful turns of phrase are enough to give this novel a chance.
Was this review helpful?
Super long! Not necessarily a bad thing, but it did take me forever to get through. If you don’t like slow burn stories, then this might not be the book for you because it’s a very subtle book that relies on slow pacing. Again, not a criticism, but I can see how some people would get bored with that and not enjoy this book. Aside from that, Isabella Hammad has crafted a wildly beautiful novel that straddles historical fiction and literary fiction all at the same time. Her characters are interesting, and Midhat is definitely unlike a character I’ve come across before. Also, it’s great seeing more historical fiction on Israel/Palestine and the 20th century twists that have helped form today’s situation.

Highly recommend!
Was this review helpful?
A wonderful debut novel historical fiction at its best.A multi layered novel a story of cultural identity turmoil love at a unique place and time in history.Looking forward to more by this very talented author.#netgalley #groveatlantic
Was this review helpful?
"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. Arrangements were made for Frederic Molineu, professor of anthropology, to host the Palestinian medical student.

Midhat's joy at new found freedom was complicated by "strong gusts of anxiety...[he had a ] comparative ignorance of European convention". His fondness and budding love for Jeannette Molineu, however, grew by leaps and bounds. He had "an explosive and unwieldy desire which only increased in strength the longer she ignored him". Unfortunately, Midhat discovered that Professor Molineu had a hidden agenda. He was hosting the medical student in order to assess the young Muslim's assimilation to European culture. Feeling betrayed, Midhat left Montpellier's Medical School behind, moved to Paris, and enrolled in the Sorbonne. 

As a student of history, he debated with revolutionaries and political leaders. Civil unrest was building as the French then the British exercised control over Palestine. Midhat was caught between two cultures, never fully embracing either. In Paris, he could be a man about town, well dressed and sporting a cane. His exciting life was interrupted by his father's insistence that he return to Nablus, start his career, marry and have children. Nablus was "ancient", a city of "many tales, curses and charms". Where did Midhat belong? He arguably felt like a man without a country, an outsider to both Palestinian and French culture. His struggles mirrored the turbulence and the changing face of Palestine.

"The Parisian" by Isabella Hammad was a work of historical fiction addressing cultural identity, love, hardship and sorrow as Midhat navigated the realities of life during the unsettling political climate of the time. This hefty tome of almost 600 pages was well worth reading.

Thank you Grove Atlantic and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "The Parisian".
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
This was a wonderful read. It was long, and at times difficult to follow, however that was due to my lack of exposure to Palestinian history and not at all reflective of the writing. 

The story is a beautiful multi-generational history of families who are in the sphere of “The Parisian”. It jumps around to different settings as we follow him growing up and experiencing new places and people. His story is interwoven with the events of colonial Europe and their interest in the Middle East. I have not had much exposure to this history, and when I have it’s often been from Christian or Jewish stories, so this was a fresh look for me. It is obviously a complex and difficult history to tell and the author does so in such a clear way that I was able to discover new perspectives while I simultaneously enjoyed the storytelling. 

I would highly recommend this book. Thank you NetGalley for providing the book in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
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. The novel covers a pivotal period in Middle Eastern history and politics, but just as Midhat never seems to come to grips with it, I didn’t find the book altogether successful in explaining the complexities of the situation. The book has garnered great praise, with Zadie Smith even comparing the writing to Flaubert and Stendhal, but I’m completely out-of-step with many other such reviewers. I found the characterisation flat, with none of the characters ever coming truly alive on the page, and with many just being “stock” characters (the grandmother, for example). And there are just too many of them, some of them playing only very minor roles and it’s difficult to distinguish between them. It’s certainly an ambitious novel, but far too long. A tighter narrative structure would have been more effective. In particular much of the Paris section could have been dispensed with, as apart from turning Midhat into the Parisian of the title they add nothing to the storyline.  I didn’t find the writing anything special, although it’s certainly competent and with the occasional nice turn of phrase, but overall I found it hard to become absorbed in the narrative or to care very much about what happened. Disappointing after all the rave reviews.
Was this review helpful?
Through a young’s man personal journey from Nablus in Palestine (nowadays in northern West bank) to Paris, during World War I to his return in Palestine at the dawn of its battle for independence, Isabella Hammad illuminates an important period of Palestinian history.

The Parisian starts with Midhat’s arrival in France, to study medicine at Monpellier in South France. He is falling in love with a woman in France and France in general, and when he goes back to Nablus at the end of the war, the Ottoman Empire has been defeated, the British and the French have defined future spheres of control in the Middle East and the Arabs are starting to fight for their independence. While his country convulses, Midhat undergoes his own personal fight, contending with the demands of his inner life influenced by his life in France and the obligations to his family and his community at that period of rapture.

The Parisian is an ambitious, and thought-provoking debut novel. It’s a historical epic that captures a man’s search for identity and love and a nation’s dream and fight for independence.
Was this review helpful?
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 for the ARC.  Fans of big Russian novels will recognize the rhythms of this.  It's also one which might be better read in hard copy instead of kindle.
Was this review helpful?
I'm sorry to state that I am unable to offer a fair review of this book. I could not force myself to continue reading it after the first 50 pages, as it just did not hold my interest. I won't post a review, so as to not negatively affect the author or her possible success. Sorry!
Was this review helpful?
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 is, every time I put the book down, Midhat stayed in my mind, following me around, and I couldn’t leave him hanging, could I? I’m so glad I didn’t, because firstly I would have continued to wonder how Midhat’s life played out, and secondly I would have missed the wonders of this book. 

The Parisian revolves around Midhat Kamal, the son of a wealthy fabric trader from Nablus in Palestine, and follows him through about 20 years of his life, which coincide with the First World War in Europe, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate, and the Arab uprising for independence in the mid 1930’s. The first quarter of the novel takes place in France, where Midhat’s father sends him to study medicine. Midhat falls in love, both with a woman and the country, but he then returns to Nablus alone, where he moves to learn his father’s trade. France never leaves his thoughts, but Nablus is where he stays. The rest of the novel is the story of a country fighting to exist in its own right. Midhat is the leading thread through the story but we also get to know many other characters, all of whom add depth and importance to the story, as well as necessary information towards grasping a concrete overview of the country, the changes, and a history we don’t talk about.  

It’s beautifully written, and the setting, the characters, and the plot really interested me. I loved the depth, and the intensity of the descriptions, both visual and psychological. I also feel like I learned so much about a country I already thought I knew so much about. 

The Parisian reminded me so much of the 19th century French and Russian literature I studied in depth in my teens and early 20’s. The richness of the character development, and the intensity of the language reminded me that literature is art, and that this book is actually a work of art. There is a level of commitment required from the reader, and if readers aren’t aware of that they may be put off by the story at first. I am glad that I persevered, because The Parisian is a very, very special book.

This is historical fiction, history, and literature at its finest. If you only buy one book in April make sure it is this one. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy!
Was this review helpful?
The Parisian, by Isabella Hammad, is beautifully written, rich with details and historical background. Historical fiction is my favorite genre and I was so looking forward to this book. It is a long book, quite slow in several areas, and I had moments when I struggled to absorb myself into the story, but the writing is superb and the history wonderfully written.

Sadly, I just couldn’t relate to the characters, and found the story burdened by so many characters. Aside from the main characters, there were many who just came and went so quickly, I had to continuously look at the character list in the front of the book to remind me who they even were. 

In addition to the cumbersomeness of far too many characters, this book had far too many unexplained phrases in both French and Arabic. While I speak French, most American readers do not. They will be as bewildered as I found myself by the Arabic phrases. I had to pause to look up the Arabic phrases because as a reader I want to fully understand not only what the character is speaking but what the character is feeling. 

Isabella Hammad writes in a complex and unambiguous manner, building the story with blocks the reader puts together slowly throughout the book. If the reader’s focus is mainly history, this is the novel to read. The impressive historical content is the primary strength of this book. This is a book worth reading if history is what you love, as I would recommend this book based upon the historical strength alone. 

Thanks to NetGalley, Grove Atlantic, and the author for allowing me to read this ARC. This review and my opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
Well written, albeit overdrawn, historical novel by Isabella Hammad. Could have been more tightly edited in parts.
Was this review helpful?
The Parisian (or Al-Barisi) is Midhat Kamal, a young medical student from Nablus (north of Jerusalem) who has traveled alone to Montpelier France where he meets and falls in love with his benefactor's troubled daughter Jeannette Molineu. Midhat and Jeannette bond over being motherless; he has trouble in med-school, and seems to seek her out instead of studying harder. When Jeannette's father Dr. Molineu offends Midhat with an insensitive racial blunder, Midhat flees their house brokenhearted, for Paris. In Paris he is reunited with Arabic friends who involve him in international politics. After warring intensifies, Midhat's and Jeannette's attempts at communicating with each other both fail. 

From there Midhat returns home to his grandmother's in Nablus, and rather than pursue politics or medicine all of a sudden he's working for his father's clothing empire. At this point what I took to be a romantic multi-cultural tale veers off into a broad and perhaps over-ambitious history of the highly complex Levantine region, including aspects of Samaritans, Jews, Syrians, Turks, and culminating in the formation of Palestine.  It's as if the story starts out straight-forward in a Western way, and then ends up Middle Eastern, winding and story-within-a-story-within-a-story, but scandal and jealousy and madness throughout.
Was this review helpful?
The writing in this book is excellent, however its length and a sense of distance between myself and the characters kept me from feeling fully immersed. A well written novel, though not quite for me.
Was this review helpful?
i think this book is wonderfully written, rich of details and with an interesting historical background.
Unfortunately I couldn't relate to the characters and I didn't enjoy the book.
I think it's a good book but not my cup of tea.
Many thanks to Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for this ARC. I voluntarily read and reviewed this book, all opinions are mine.
Was this review helpful?
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 university, the widower Molineau. During his stay, he falls desperately in love ,with Jeannette, Molineau’s daughter. This poignant romance fails. When he is betrayed by Molineu, Midhat moves to Paris and embarks on a hedonist journey. He constantly walks the knife-edge between fitting in and being different, being a woman’s love exotique. When World War I keeps him in France, he becomes part of a group of expatriates who debate the future of Palestine. At last recalled home by his father, Midhat faces the same dilemma of not fitting in at home, held apart by his newfound sophistication.

This book deals beautifully with big issues: personal identity, cultural identity, the struggle between self-self-fulfillment and family set against a background of a nation struggling for independence. Hammad is particularly gifted at showing both these emotions and the setting in which they occur. She deftly handles a large, complex cast (ignore the long list at the beginning of the book—you won’t need it), multiple settings, and the turbulence of the times. The middle of the book drags a bit. There are many foreign terms, that while giving a sense of a different culture, also tend to clutter her writing.
Was this review helpful?