Michael Farris Smith – NICK

Michael Farris Smith – NICK

World War I is raging and Nick Caraway among the young soldiers who fight in France. His life threatened when he lies in the trench, he is looking for distraction in Paris on those few days he is off duty. He falls for a woman but times like these are not made for love. When he returns to the US in 1919, he suffers from what we today call post-traumatic stress syndrome. He does not know where to go or what to do with his life and thus ends up in New Orleans. The lively city promises forgetting but there, too, he is haunted in his dreams.

I was so looking forward to reading Michael Farris Smith’s novel about Nick Caraway since I have read “The Great Gatsby” several times, watched the film adaptations even more often and totally adore Fitzgerald’s characters. Knowing that the plot was set in the time before Nick meets Jay Gatsby, it was clear that this novel would not be a kind of spin-off, but I wasn’t expecting something with absolutely no connection to the classic novel at all. Apart from the protagonist’s name and the very last page, I couldn’t see any link and admittedly I was quite disappointed since I had expected a totally different story.

First of all, having read Fitzgerald so many times, I have developed some idea of the character Nick. He has always been that gentle and shy young man who is attentive and a good listener and friend. He never appeared to be the party animal who headlessly consumes alcohol and goes to brothels. Therefore, the encounters with women in “NICK“ do not fit to my idea of the character at all. He also never made the impression of being totally traumatized by his war experiences which, on the contrary, is the leading motive in this novel.

Roaring Twenties, lively New York party life, people enjoying themselves – this is the atmosphere I adored in The Great Gatsby, none of this can be found in “NICK”. It starts with exhausting war descriptions, something I avoid reading normally and I wasn’t prepared for at all. Pages after page we read about soldiers fighting, this might be attractive for some readers, unfortunately, this is no topic for me. After depressing war scenes, we have gloomy and depressed Nick not knowing how to cope with the experiences he made in France. No glitter here, but a lot of fire and ashes.

Reading “NICK” without having “The Great Gatsby” in mind might lead to a totally different reading experience. For me, sadly, a disappointment in many respects for which also some beautifully put sentences and an interesting character development could not make amends.

Isabella Hammad – The Parisian

isabella-hammad-the-parisian
Isabella Hammad – The Parisian

When Midhat Kamal leaves his home town Nablus for France, he doesn’t know that the old continent is on the verge of World War I. The young Palestinian starts his studies in medicine close to the Mediterranean where he also gets his first insight in the French culture and society. He soon has to realise that not only the world is in a very fragile state but also that in private life coalitions change quickly and even though at the beginning of the new century, people are eager to explore the world and foreign cultures, this does not mean that people are open to consider someone from the Middle East their equal. From France, he returns only to learn that also is home country is not an easy place to live.

When opening the book I was already astonished by the sheer number of characters listed. Yet, this turned out to be only one of the factors that made the novel quite hard to read for me. I also could hardly relate to the protagonist who, in my opinion, was stubborn and narrow minded. Third, Isabella Hammad simply wanted too much for my liking. Setting a love story against world politics is one thing, but it rarely works to write a convincing story on several levels – the personal, the societal and the political – without losing focus. I found the story quite lengthy and thus boring. Additionally, the intercultural conflicts and misunderstanding between the characters could have provided a lot of food for thought, yet, in my view, much of them were drawn too stereotypically and reduced to one or two features to actually provide grounds for discussion.