... dazzling ... a deeply imagined historical novel with none of the usual cobwebs of the genre ... an up-close immediacy and stylistic panache ... A less confident writer might have chosen for her hero a man of action ... But Hammad settles instead, like Flaubert, on a conflicted dreamer ... Isabella Hammad has crafted an exquisite novel that, like Midhat himself, delves back into the confusing past while remaining wholly anchored in the precarious present.
The Parisian...is not a page-turner. That’s not an insult. If there’s a slow food movement, perhaps there should be a slow read movement: books meant to savor, not gulp. With historical sweep and sentences of startling beauty, Hammad has written the story of a displaced dreamer ... Through dint of her own substitutions, Hammad has created in The Parisian a contemplative book of great beauty.
[Hammad's] book has a defiantly old-fashioned scope and pace, unhurriedly telling the story of one man’s life against the backdrop of turbulent times ... her writing isn’t virtuosic but patient and hardworking; there’s nothing obviously autobiographical about The Parisian; and though the book is thoroughly researched—a fact Hammad doesn’t hide—it is free of the buzzy omniscience that pervades fiction in the age of Google. Hammad lets the action speak for itself ... But The Parisian is no costume drama; it is a novel about Palestinian and Arab nationalism ... Its relevance to the present may be oblique, but it is real and urgent ... A consistent pleasure of Hammad’s novel is its detailed evocation of this late-Ottoman world, a world in many ways more fluid than our own, in which Syria and Palestine do not represent entirely distinct places or identities ... Hammad’s salons and smoke-filled apartments are full of animated talk, and her handling of dialogue is unusual ... The Arabic words...force readers to wonder whether they have full access to the thoughts and feelings of these particular, Palestinian characters—a more pointed and even disquieting idea ... Hammad’s novel is an argument against...essentialism ... In its suspicion of a fossilized patriarchy and its hope for popular and feminist agitation, in its lack of interest in the ideal of coexistence and its focus on nonviolent resistance...Hammad’s novel doubles as a diagnosis of the present.
... assured and captivating ... It is, unavoidably, a crowded narrative—the introductory list of characters stretches over three pages—but Ms. Hammad’s acute evocation of both place and personality ensures that we are never lost ... There may be one subplot too many in this roomy, billowing epic ... Like a passionate tour guide, Ms. Hammad wants us to see everything, even the invisible. And we do."
... a beautiful chronicle ... The experience of reading The Parisian is akin to plunging into a great 19th-century classic, thanks to the languorous pace, easy poise, minute observations and the apparent ease with which Hammad takes her third person narrative from one character to another, letting her reader inhabit different viewpoints. There is also an underlying urgency to this rich, luscious novel: the themes that Hammad explores in Midhat’s life reverberate in the book’s political framework, which charts Palestine’s struggle under Ottoman, French and British rule between 1914 and 1936 ... The Parisian is a skilful demonstration of how the personal and the political are inescapably intertwined.
Isabella Hammad’s remarkably accomplished debut novel very quickly snares the reader’s attention ... always connecting the personal with the political, the journey of our hero Midhat Kamal...makes for compelling reading. The sensation of reality is intense, at various levels. Time and place are fully imagined, with constant attention to the details of dress, furniture and architecture ... The dialogue flows easily but is sometimes marred by an unnecessarily liberal scattering of unexplained French or Arabic phrases. This perhaps adds flavor, and reaches towards Midhat’s bilingualism, but...will surely be disruptive for most readers. Apart from that editorial quibble, Hammad is a natural storyteller. She sustains tension and suspends revelation skillfully, and interweaves character and theme, the global and the local, with the assurance of a much more experienced author. The writing is deeply humane, its wide vision combined with poised restraint ...The Parisian teems with riches—love, war, betrayal and madness—and marks the arrival of a bright new talent.
Hammad clearly knows her stuff and the book echoes with contemporary political themes ... From the dinner tables of Montpellier to the markets of Nablus, the tension between personal and political is a constant undercurrent ... The novel reminds us that anxiety about balancing day-to-day life with the demands of an unstable, frightening world is far from a modern problem ... There are occasional moments in The Parisian that mark it out as a first book. The storyline following a French priest is one too many, and the book is a little overstuffed with the author’s research. Keeping a reader interested in tricky geopolitics over a novel of this length is a formidable task, but Hammad manages it by focusing so keenly on Midhat’s inner life.
...an admirably ambitious debut by an intelligent, hard-working writer ... The whole thing could have done with a very vigorous prune and maybe a few jokes. But the breadth of research on display here is impressive, as is Hammad’s granular depiction of this most politically complex of regions. With energy and care, she animates a crucial period of Palestinian history that most readers will know little about.
There are moments of such lyric beauty in The Parisian, Isabella Hammad’s debut novel, that you want what they describe to be permanently closed, hers to be the final word ... The Parisian is worthy, sincere, generous — and grievously dull, a tale whose flares of energy are buried beneath a gnarled, inexpert narrative. Nearly halfway into the book, there is a description of black coffee trembling and flashing in the sunlight. As an image, it has a swift, beautiful clarity of expression — which by then only serves to highlight the long-windedness of the story surrounding it ... The Parisian is complex in a way few experienced writers could handle, and its catalogue of technical missteps is long. (Nearly every one of its chapters could beneficially be halved, for example. Hammad has tenuous control of point of view. And if only we could permanently retire the pocketwatch as a symbol of time and hardship.) But it also has a close grasp of history, and the high quality of its writing never fades. The problem is simpler than any of that, really: Hammad has yet to develop any skill for character. The people she creates are so taxonomically familiar as to be basically blank...
... one of the most ambitious first novels to have appeared in years ... Written in soulful, searching prose, [the book is] a jam-packed epic that sets the life of one man against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman empire, the British mandate over Palestine and the Arab uprising for independence ... Hammad’s depiction of the flush of first love is irresistible, a giddy drama of lingering looks and subterfuge that reverberates through the entire novel ... Hammad gets under the skin of a huge cast of real and imagined characters ... Hammad is a natural social novelist with an ear for lively dialogue as well as an ability to illuminate psychological interiority. While she depicts the divisions in the Middle East with a bitter clarity, the uprisings and political machinations that dominate the second half of the novel never feel quite so alive as the inner conflicts of her characters ... Hammad is a writer of startling talent – and The Parisian has the rhythm of life.
...a historical, multigenerational 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.
This debut novel by a young writer in her twenties is a feat of imaginative sympathy and retrieval ... The combination here of gripping personal and political stories in an action-packed historical narrative amounts, as it did in Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety, to an impressive achievement.
This collision between western modernity and oriental traditionalism—literary realism and age-old storytelling—lies at the heart of Isabella Hammad’s often breathtaking debut ... Isabella Hammad establishes herself here as a literary force to be reckoned with. The Parisian is, in many ways, an extraordinary achievement, but is it really 'realism in the tradition of Flaubert,' as Zadie Smith claims in her blurb, or rather a beautifully executed pastiche? (Has Smith forgotten her own Two Paths for the Novel?) At times Hammad gestures towards realism’s imperialist ambitions—its colonization of as-yet-unnamed realms of experience—but her own work retains little, if anything, of that spirit of experimentation. For all its brilliance, The Parisian belongs to a genre that was already outdated when the events it describes were set.
Time has a wonderfully strange quality in The Parisian ... Plotlines slowly unfold....and then unexpectedly, irrevocably shift ... Hammad tells her tragic stories slowly, over more than 500 pages, making us feel what it’s like to live not outside or above but within history. Time drifts; life drifts. So too does The Parisian ... Hammad exhibits less intelligent starvation than skillful inclusion. If anything her novel can at times seem overstuffed with secondary characters, especially in its second half. Yet her sentences are elegantly controlled ... [Hammad's characters] live in the world of history, and The Parisian makes this history, and its actors, live once again.
An assured debut novel ... Hammad sometimes drifts into the didactic in outlining an exceedingly complex history, but she does so with a poet’s eye for detail ... Closely observed and elegantly written: an overstuffed story that embraces decades and a large cast of characters without longueurs.
In her exceptional debut, Hammad taps into the satisfying slow-burn style of classic literature with a storyline that captures both the heart and the mind ... Richly textured prose drives the novel’s spellbinding themes of the ebb and flow of cultural connections and people who struggle with love, familial responsibilities, and personal identity. This is an immensely rewarding novel that readers will sink into and savor.