Nathalie Abi-Ezzi - Why I Write for her novel Paper Sparrows

Nathalie Abi-Ezzi (Paper Sparrows out now) – WHY I WRITE VOL.16

We have the pleasure today to introduce you to Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, author of Paper Sparrows, a brilliant tale of disappearance, exploration and war.

We’ll have the pleasure to review her last novel, Paper Sparrows, very soon. For now, find more details about this book at the end of this Why I Write.

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Why I Write, by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi.

to defer

At a time when words like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ have entered everyday conversation, it seems frivolous to be talking about something as self-indulgent as writing. But here it is: why do I write? Bizarrely, I have never thought about the answer to this question. Quite possibly it is the only thing I have never questioned. Every other potential career path – and believe me, there have been many – has been scrutinised, analysed and ultimately dismissed. Or put another way, I have been too much of a wimp to commit myself to anything else. I’m still considering what my real job is going to be…

to travel

Planes scare me. Trains bore me. And as for travelling by sea… Well, let’s not go there. But I’ve always loved travelling – the part at least that happens after you’ve arrived. Growing up during the Lebanese civil war, holidays were not an option. So I read. I read about different countries and unfamiliar people, of adventures that I would never have, of entire worlds that were as near and far away as a dream.

Now I create such worlds. I squint in their sunshine and watch as dramas unfold that are only partially instigated by me. Right now, with the horrors of coronavirus all around, travel is again impossible. So, just as it was in my childhood, a book is a cheap ticket to other times, places and possibilities. And no need for sweaty palms or travel-sickness tablets!

Portrait of Nathalie Abi-Ezzi for her novel Paper Sparrows
Courtesy of Ray Goodwin

to honour

My grandmother spun stories and rhymes out of air. Her stories were funny or sad, her rhymes almost always crude. But she made me laugh and ask questions and fall silent. And she did this with only words.

I took that for granted, but now I find it wondrous. Because writing books is painstaking. The layering of scenes, ideas and characters, the drafting and redrafting. The infuriating plasticity of the whole thing, like a sticky dough, before it finally sets into its shape.

Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, Paper Sparrows, Holland House Press (2020).

Layla, a 19 year old music undergraduate, travels from London back to Lebanon for the summer holidays, only to find that her brother has gone missing. Without a second thought, she sets off to find him in Beirut. On her way, she picks up a stray dog, falls in love with Joe, another student, and sees her country through entirely new eyes. But just as she is beginning to pick up clues about where her brother might be, the so-called “July War” breaks out and turns everything on its head.


Bio: Nathalie’s first novel, A Girl Made of Dust (4th Estate), was the winner of the LiBeraturpreis and was short-listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award. Her latest novel, Paper Sparrows, is published by Holland House Books.

As well as writing, Nathalie teaches and tutors, and has recently started to run writing workshops. She is involved with refugee and wildlife charities, but is otherwise given to seemingly pointless yet entirely joyful activities like playing music, painting and going on very long walks.

Written by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi.

Compiled by Marc Louis-Boyard for Slow Culture

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