The Parisian, or, Al-Barisi : a novel

by Isabella Hammad

Paper Book, 2019


New York : Grove Press, 2019.


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 Midhat 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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member miss.mesmerized
When Midhat Kamal leaves his home town Nablus for France, he doesn’t know that the old continent is on the verge of World War I. The young Palestinian starts his studies in medicine close to the Mediterranean where he also gets his first insight in the French culture and society. He soon has to realise that not only the world is in a very fragile state but also that in private life coalitions change quickly and even though at the beginning of the new century, people are eager to explore the world and foreign cultures, this does not mean that people are open to consider someone from the Middle East their equal. From France, he returns only to learn that also is home country is not an easy place to live.

When opening the book I was already astonished by the sheer number of characters listed. Yet, this turned out to be only one of the factors that made the novel quite hard to read for me. I also could hardly relate to the protagonist who, in my opinion, was stubborn and narrow minded. Third, Isabella Hammad simply wanted too much for my liking. Setting a love story against world politics is one thing, but it rarely works to write a convincing story on several levels – the personal, the societal and the political – without losing focus. I found the story quite lengthy and thus boring. Additionally, the intercultural conflicts and misunderstanding between the characters could have provided a lot of food for thought, yet, in my view, much of them were drawn too stereotypically and reduced to one or two features to actually provide grounds for discussion.
… (more)
LibraryThing member muddyboy
A sprawling novel that follows the life of Midhat Kamal a Palestinian man who is sent to Paris to go to school. There he meets a young lady and there seems to be joint feelings. He eventually returns home where he is supposed to have an arranged Muslim marriage. This is the central issue in Midhat's life. A second theme is the Muslim fight against European domination in their homeland in the early 1900's. I enjoyed the more personal aspects of the book - not so much the political parts.… (more)
LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
Long, detailed and immersive but never really got to me emotionally. Filled with historical and day to day detail and texture, and certainly an impressive achievement, but the characters never really came to life. The author comes close with Fatima and it would have been interesting to see Fatima in greater depth alongside Midhat but maybe next time.… (more)


ix; 566


Page: 0.2034 seconds