BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad [in Booklist]

Born to a Cairo-based merchant father, raised by his paternal grandmother in Nablus, educated in a Constantinople boarding school, Midhat Kamal is already a peripatetic polyglot when he arrives in France. While he studies medicine at the University of Montpellier, he lives with a doctor and his enigmatic daughter. Without finishing his degree, Midhat deserts his hosts – despite having fallen in deep, dire love – and for three years earns his moniker, the Parisian, studying at the Sorbonne.

By his 1919 return to Palestine, he’s estranged from his comfortable former life as threatening politics loom, with colonizers and settlers shifting borders, redrawing alliances, toppling leaders, and killing innocents. Amidst threats of violent chaos, Midhat’s life continues – with marriage, fatherhood, responsibility, reinvention, and the haunting memory of lost love.

Plimpton Prize-winner Hammad’s first novel is a historical, multi-generational sprawl, with a stupendous beginning that, alas, devolves into a tumultuous muddle of superfluous characters and unnecessary side-narratives, ending with a disappointing lost-letter-induced-insanity ploy. That the twentysomething novelist is already an enviable wordsmith promises, however, that experience and maturity will produce sustained spectacularity in future titles.

Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, April 1, 2019

Readers: Adult

Published: 2019


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