Nostalgia Has a Real Force
"I prefer the challenge of writing about others."
British-Palestinian writer Isabella Hammad has been widely praised for her first novel ‘The Parisian’ (2018). In this video, she talks about Palestine in the fading days of the Ottoman Empire, about nostalgia for the past, and how the novel allows “a kind of leap” into the consciousness of someone else.
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The London-born writer shares how her Palestinian great-grandfather, Midhat, inspired ‘The Parisian’. The main character of the novel, Midhat Kamal, goes to France during the First World War to study medicine, and falls in love with a French woman. When he returns to Palestine – now under British rule – he still harbours a deep longing for France. Hammad wanted to look at this period of Palestinian history through the eyes of Midhat, who was in love with France in a time where Britain and France “had carved up the Middle East and were ruling it basically as colonial powers.” In connection to this, she was interested in writing about the period of the 1930s where the Palestinian national struggle became cemented, and where there was a development of class consciousness within its society. She was also very conscious about writing about a part of Palestinian history “that’s not widely known or written about in fiction in English, and I’m very happy to contribute a text that covers that ground.”
Hammad doesn’t consider herself nostalgic but finds nostalgia to have a real force and to be an important part of the narrative. When she interviewed older people about their past during her research, Hammad found that many diverted to general images, which she initially found frustrating. Now, however, she finds it “perfectly understandable that you would revert to generalisms rather than remember particular things you’ve lost.” Finally, Hammad discusses the difficulty of inhabiting the mind of another, which she feels requires that you put yourself and your ego aside. This, however, doesn’t mean that you leave your body altogether: “You use your emotional experience, you use your literal experience, you use your experience of others to access imaginatively another subjectivity.”
Isabella Hammad (b. 1991) is a British-Palestinian writer. In 2018, she won the Plimpton Prize for Fiction for her story ‘Mr. Can’aan’. Her writing has appeared in Conjunctions and the Paris Review. In 2018, she published her first novel, ‘The Parisian’, which received great critical acclaimed and has drawn endorsements from authors such as Zadie Smith, who called it “a sublime reading experience: delicate, restrained, surpassingly intelligent, uncommonly poised and truly beautiful.”
Isabella Hammad was interviewed by Kathrine Tschemerinsky in August 2019 in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark.
Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard
Produced and edited by Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2019
Supported by Nordea-fonden