“Baris.” He sighed. “It is where my life is.”
So Faruq Al-Azmeh, the “one other Arab on board the ship to Marseille”, told an impressionable Midhat Kamal as he embarked on his journey in 1914. En route from Nablus, Palestine, to study medicine at the University of Montpellier – a popular endeavour for sons of an Ottoman elite less-than-keen on conscription in the Turkish army – little did Midhat know that he, too, would soon come to consider Paris the epicentre of his existence.
In Montpellier, Midhat’s motivation to study dissipates quickly, replaced by a fascination with Jeanette Molineu, the daughter of his host Frederic. Jeannette’s “delicate” features and the “tiny creases beneath her eyes” quickly prove all-consuming, as formal afternoons spent taking coffee on the terrace give way to lingering looks and conspiratorial meetings.
Disaster strikes when, one summer’s morning, Midhat enters Dr Molineu’s study to find his name scrawled on the front of a notebook: “Notes Preliminaires – Midhat Kamal”. This sudden realisation that his seemingly-amiable host has been studying him as an example of the “primitive Arab brain” sets in motion a flurry of fraught accusations. Recognising that his relationship with Jeanette is “broken”, he flees his life in Montpellier without saying goodbye.
This book has been shortlisted for the Palestine Book Awards 2019, please click here to read the full review on the Palestine Book Awards site