Saturday, 23 February 2019

№ 19 reading list: a debut novel

№ 19 reading list: a debut novel by Isabella Hammad · Lisa Stefan

Look at me, managing to share a reading list in February! I'm particularly excited about one book on the list, The Parisian, a debut novel by young author Isabella Hammad. It's a spring release from publisher Jonathan Cape and let me tell you, the first chapters are promising. Moving on to another Black History Month: since 1976 it has been celebrated in the US in February and I'm showing my support with If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. The Brits celebrate it in October and Baldwin was also on the reading list I shared then (№ 16). He's a favourite of mine. The film by director Barry Jenkins based on the novel has hardly escaped Baldwin fans. He got an Oscar nomination for the screenplay and Regina King for supporting role. Tomorrow we will know if they won.

№ 19 reading list:
1  The Parisian  by Isabella Hammad
2  Orientalism  by Edward W. Said
3  If Beale Street Could Talk  by James Baldwin
4  The Ghost Writer  by Philip Roth
5  Women and Writing  by Virginia Woolf

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad, a debut novel (№ 19 reading list)
London-born Isabella Hammad won the 2018 Plimpton Prize for Fiction, for the short story Mr. Can'aan, featured in the literary magazine The Paris Review. April sees the release of her first novel, The Parisian. The lovely people at publisher Jonathan Cape (an imprint of Vintage) sent me a proof copy of this historical fiction. The following description is from the press release: 'As the First World War shatters families, destroys friendships and kills lovers, a young Palestinian dreamer sets out to find himself.' The dreamer is Midhat Kamal, an Arab we meet on the first page: He's aboard a ship taking him from the port of Alexandria to Marseille, where he arrives in October 1914.

Author Zadie Smith highly praises The Parisian in a blurb on the back cover, describing it as 'a sublime reading experience: delicate, restrained, surpassingly intelligent, uncommonly poised and truly beautiful' and further adding:
It is realism in the tradition of Flaubert and Stendhal - everything that happens feels not so much imagined as ordained. That this remarkable historical epic should be the debut of a writer in her twenties seems impossible, yet it's true. Isabella Hammad is an enormous talent and her book is a wonder.

The Parisian
By Isabella Hammad
Jonathan Cape
Hardcover, 576 pages
Buy here

My last reading list was Japanese and naturally these past weeks have been characterised by Japanese culture. Peonies do not bloom until spring/summer, yet I'm going to end with this piece of art by Hokusai and give Japanese literature a rest, for now.

Katsushika Hokusai, Canary and peony, 1834
Katsushika Hokusai, Canary and peony, 1834, Guimet Museum, Paris via WikiArt

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