Isabella Hammad’s book The Parisian is an absorbing, historically rich, self-assured debut novel.

Despite the title, our time in Paris is short in that the story begins with a young Midhat moving to France in October 1914, at the beginning of WWI, to train to be a doctor. His stay in Paris may not be very long in the scheme of his whole life, but it was an informative few years for him. On his return to his hometown, Nablus, he affects a Parisian air, wearing the latest Parisian fashion and discussing the latest Parisian books, art and philosophy.

Midhat is loosely based on Hammad’s own great-grandfather – a man whose family teased him and joked about his Parisian ways for the remainder of his life. These are the stories that Hammad grew up listening to. Her grandmother, Ghada (who features briefly as a young girl towards the end of the book) was the main source of these stories about this gentle, sensitive man who happened to live his life during extremely turbulent and ‘interesting times’.

Hammad only gives us a few chapters about this significant, informative time in his life, before returning Midhat to Nablus. Memories of regret and nostalgia about his time in France influence every decision he makes thereafter. The unfolding political events of this time as well as family expectations go on to inform his career choice, his eventual marriage and friendships.

Back in Nablus, Midhat finds that he has become an outsider, struggling to belong in his hometown as he constantly longs for another place, another time, another love. As time goes by, the growing unrest in Palestine almost seems to pass Midhat by as he dwells on his Parisian memories. Yet his inner turmoil often reflects the outer madness taking hold of his homeland.

Hammad has created an incredibly immersive story about a fascinating period in history. She has chosen a fairly traditional, classic style of storytelling which suits the time period and nature of the story perfectly. She claims Virginia Woolf and Henry James as influences on her writing, especially James’ ability with dialogue and how he reveals the unsaid. I found her style reminiscent of Charles Dickens – a book worthy of your time which continues to resonate several years after a first read.

The Parisian won the 2019 Palestine Creative Book award.

The Parisians has remained a constant staff favourite at Roaring Stories since publication in 2019. Available instore and online at Roaring Stories.