The Parisian

Written by Isabella Hammad
Review by Viviane Crystal

Midhat Kamal, the main character in this story of Europe and Palestine in the early 1900s, leaves Nablus to study medicine in France, living in the home of a French medical instructor and his daughter, Jeannette, with whom Midhat falls in love. In carefully delineated prose that includes beautiful descriptions of architecture, furniture, and clothing, Midhat learns French and participates in many philosophical discussions, during which it appears that he is accepted as a part of intellectual and social French life.

Initially, he and Jeannette bond with discussions about her late mother’s illness, hystero-neurasthenia. However, eventually he is stunned – first by two separate betrayals by Jeannette and her father. Shattered, he quickly leaves Montpelier to study and teach history in Paris, where again he fails to realize he will always be a “foreigner” from Palestine, an area deeply enmeshed in political turmoil.

When Midhat returns to Nablus, he suffers a type of counter-culture shock, finding he is both intellectually mature and progressive but also still deeply rooted in superstition and Palestinian tradition. He must then deal with the upheaval caused by the movement for Palestinian independence.

Hammad creates a cast of characters who are propelled to action or choose a path of silence during the drive for independence for Palestine. She is adept at depicting individual, cultural and historical chaos unfolding in a challenging historical period in the Middle East. Outstanding and literate historical fiction!