Paper Sparrows by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, book review by Marc Louis-Boyard for Slow Culture

Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, Paper Sparrows – BOOK REVIEW #10

Paper Sparrows, written by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi (find her Why I Write here) could be your moving cure in these time of stillness and uncertainty.

In a few words: 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.

This book is a tale of youth, a tale of war, a tale of links, a tale of truth. A noble cocktail of feelings, rebounds and profound reality set in the summer of 2006. 

– On another note, our friend Gabriel Birnbaum just released the excellent Ambien Jukebox album. If you like to improve your reading experience with solid soundtracks, this suggestion could be perfect for you.

But for now… back to Paper Sparrows!

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Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, Paper Sparrows (Holland House Books): our review.

Narration at its finest pace

This book has a remarkable balance between the essential, and the useful mundane. The readers find themselves at the center of a vertiginous number of scenes, but this feeling isn’t dizzying. No boredom in sight, and also, no time for useless details accumulated for the sake of length.

 The tone of the omniscient narrator is a soothing one, with a certain and agreeable distance. The characters do not seem to have deep features at first, but the most iconic ones (Layla, Baba, and Joe, among a few others) are enriched in many ways as the chapters go by. As always with quality literature, the patient and benevolent reader is rewarded. The attitudes and behaviors of Layla are especially rich and rightfully contextualized.

Paper Sparrows offers a wide panorama of the real, a real augmented with unforeseeable emotions and reactions.

‘You’ve grown’, says Baba. ‘I knew you would have, of course, but to see it… to see you…’ He tightens his grip. Her eyes prick with tears and she is heavy with contentment. Home. Her Family. (…)

– Excerpt from Paper Sparrows

Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, Paper Sparrow ebook (Holland House Books)
Ebooks lives matter.

Realistic dynamics

The main value of Nathalie Abi-Ezzi’s craft resides in her ability to provoke and cultivate credible dialogs and interactions, all evolving with the characters and their evolving roles.

Family is at the core of this novel, and we found in Paper Sparrows something we loved finding in Sarah Elaine Smith’s Marilou is Everywhere. The notion of family and its attributes are neither idealized, nor romanticized. Paper Sparrows is far from heavy naturalism, but comprises instinctive behaviors, complex relationships and raw human reflexes.

Also, rejection is a topic that we find widely overlooked by modern literature, but tactfully evoked here.

‘He’s our son’, says Mama, as if that’s the only explanation that will ever be needed for anything.

But Baba doesn’t reply. He pushes his feet back into their shoes (…).

– Excerpt from Paper Sparrows

Home (bitter)sweet home

The theme of home is predominant in Paper Sparrows, but not flooding Nathalie Abi-Ezzi’s storytelling. These evocations will encourage the reader to think about it, since no definite answers seem to be given by the book on that matter. 

What is home? Can home be one single place? Can home stay home once we fled, or once it’s been physically damaged? How can one or a few influence this choice of the heart?

We strongly suggest to get a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Home as a complementary read. A complementary read, not because Nathalie Abi-Ezzi’s work is incomplete, but because it stimulated our mind to explore more. Isn’t genuine stimulation always succeeding to great stimuli? The answer seems quite obvious.

‘(…) Layla? Don’t you want to go home?’ 

‘Home?’ He says it so easily, as if he knows exactly what it means.

– Excerpt from Paper Sparrows

Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, Paper Sparrows (Holland House Books)

Available now.

It is the summer of 2006, and nineteen-year-old London music student, Layla, returns home for the holidays to a now peaceful Lebanon. When she arrives, though, she finds that her troubled younger brother has gone missing. “Borrowing” her father’s car, she heads to Beirut to search for him, meeting a variety of people along the way. But her quest is cut short when, without warning, Beirut comes under heavy artillery fire. A new war has begun, and now she is trapped in the middle of it.

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

About Nathalie Abi-Ezzi

Nathalie Abi-Ezzi was born in Beirut, and has lived in Lebanon,Austria and the UK.

It was while working on her PhD in English Literature at King’s College London that she realized that she wanted to write her own novels rather than just analyse other people’s. So, while working variously as an editor, teacher and tutor, she wrote and published several prize-winning short stories and her first novel,A Girl Made of Dust (4th Estate, 2008), which was short-listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and was the winner of the LiBeraturpreis in 2011.

Source: Holland House Books’ authors database.

Written by Marc Louis-Boyard for Slow Culture.

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