The Parisian illuminates a pivotal period of Palestinian history through the journey and romances of one young man, from his studies in France during World War I to his return to Palestine at the dawn of its battle for independence.
... 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.