The Philistine

Leila Marshy

March 2018

Nadia Eid doesn't know it yet, but she's about to change her life. It's the end of the ‘80s and she hasn’t seen her Palestinian father since he left Montreal years ago to take a job in Egypt, promising to bring her with him. But now she’s twenty-five and he’s missing in action, so she takes matters into her own hands. Booking a short vacation from her boring job and Québecois boyfriend, she calls her father from the Nile Hilton in downtown Cairo. But nothing goes as planned and, stumbling around, Nadia wanders into an art gallery where she meets Manal, a young Egyptian artist who becomes first her guide and then her lover. 

Through this unexpected relationship, Nadia rediscovers her roots, her language, and her ambitions, as her father demonstrates the unavoidable destiny of becoming a Philistine – the Arabic word for Palestinian. With Manal’s career poised to take off and her father’s secret life revealed, the First Intifada erupts across the border.

Click here for Sophie Voillot's translation, La Philistine.

SHORTLISTED for the 2018 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
SHORTLISTED for the 2019 Miramichi Reader Very Best Book Award
SHORTLISTED for the 2019 Expozine Literary Awards

Leila Marshy is of Palestinian and Newfoundlander parentage, which is a lot. She been a filmmaker, a baker, an app designer, a marketer, a farmer, and editor of online culture journal Rover Arts. She has lived in Cairo, worked for Medical Aid for Palestine in Jerusalem, then in Montreal founded the Friends of Hutchison Street, a ground breaking community group bringing Hasidic and non-Hasidic neighbours together in dialogue. Her poetry and stories have appeared in Canadian and American journals and anthologies. The Philistine (LLP, 2018) is her first novel. She lives in Tio’tia:ke (Montréal).
Author website:

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Format: Trade paper

Size: 8 x 5 in.

Pages: 330

What they say
Bitter days, sweet days
Marthe Bijman, Seven Circumstances

When I first had this novel in my hands, I looked at the decidedly odd cover design (thinking “What’s this ...Catwoman?”) and read the blurb on the back about Egypt and Palestine, and this love affair, and saw all the Arabic phrases in the text, and said to myself: “Not this one.”

Why? Because to me, every aspect of the novel was unfamiliar and unappealing. I knew literally nothing about the setting of the novel. I knew nothing about the themes.
It is about a Canadian woman, “Nadia”, whose mother is Scottish-Canadian and whose father, “Bishara” is Palestinian. She goes to Cairo to find him, and while there, falls in love with an ambitious Egyptian artist, “Manal”, and moves in with her. For a long time, the book just lurked in my bookcase. But eventually I did read it, and it was not what I had expected.

...Do I recommend that you read this dandelion of a book? Once you open its pages, it releases its strange, foreign expressions and ideas into the air like a cloud of twirling, drifting dandelion seeds – playful and pretty, yet resilient, clinging and unavoidable.

The answer is yes, particularly if the story and themes do not appeal to you, because then it will certainly surprise you and make you think.
Read more.
August 2021, Seven Circumstances

"I highly recommend!"
Casey Stepaniuk, The Canadian Lesbrarian

The Philistine by Leila Marshy was one of those review books that I received with anticipation, but just never got around to reading. Now I have to say, curse you past Casey, because I am sad it sat on my shelf for over a year before I finally read it! I loved The Philistine. I wish I had advocated for how awesome it is when it was first published in 2018. But at least I am reviewing it now!

While The Philistine didn’t draw me in right away, it eventually won me over, hard. It’s an #OwnVoices story about Nadia, a queer Palestinian-Canadian woman who travels to Egypt in the late 1980s to track down her father whom she has not seen in years. She finds and gets to know him anew, but she also meets and falls in love with an Egyptian woman artist, Manal. As the weeks pass, Nadia finds herself staying in Cairo much longer than she had originally planned. 

One of the wonderful journeys of the novel is Nadia reconnecting with her Palestinian heritage. She meets many other Palestinians in Cairo, such as taxi drivers, booksellers, and doctors. These people do not hesitate to accept her as Palestinian, even though she feels removed from her Palestinian identity. They reach out to connect. Nadia is humbled and rejuvenated.

...All in all, The Philistine is a novel I would highly recommend! It has beautiful writing; thoughtful, nuanced content about art, family, connecting with your heritage, Palestinian and Egyptian cultures and politics, Arabic, and queer love in the 80s. I really loved this book.
Read more.
July 2020, Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

Likeville: A conversation with the author
John Faithful Hamer, Likeville

An engaging conversation with Montreal writer Leila Marshy about her debut novel, The Philistine.
Listen here.
January 2020, Likeville

A searing LGBTQ romance, complex story
All Lit Up

For a book propelled by the forces of love what is particularly powerful is Marshy's unsentimental and unflinching gaze. As Kathleen Winter has said, Marshy "makes you feel you've watched her scenes through a high-definition kaleidoscope." And Ann-Marie MacDonald has described The Philistine as a "coming-of-age story that spans – and transgresses – sexuality, culture and countries." Need more recommendations? No, just pick it up. You'll be glad you've chosen to spend some of this warming season in Leila Marshy's vivid Cairo.
Read more here.
All Lit Up, December 2018

A five-star debut
James Fisher, Miramichi Reader

A sensitive, artistically wrought story on several levels, The Philistine had me eager to return to it time after time. It was one of those reads that turned out better than expected, although I certainly didn’t have low expectations for it. One never knows with a first novel. Will it be interesting and well-written enough that you want to read the author’s next book? Or do you hope (or even care if) the author never writes another word? I can definitely state that The Philistine and Ms. Marshy fall into the first category. A five-star debut and The Philistine goes on the 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award in both the Fiction and First Book categories.
Read full review here.
November 2018, Miramichi Reader

Tyrants and rebels on the bookshelves
Jade Colbert, Globe and Mail

Leila Marshy's The Philistine also explores gay identity within a Muslim community, here in late 1980s Cairo. The daughter of a Palestinian man livingin exile since he was a young boy, 25-year old Nadia Eid trvels to Egypt in search of her father, only to find ralities she could remain blind to at home in Montreal. In Cairo she also meets Manal, a young Egyptian artist trying to break into the Western art market. Set against the backdrop of Hosni Mubarak's regime and the First Intifada, Marshy's is a bittersweet story of barriers and restricitons, which ones can only bend for now and which ones can break.
See the review here.
November 2018, Globe and Mail 

Addresses themes of identity, sexuality, dispossession, privilege with care and sensitivity
Piali Roy, Quill & Quire

Marshy covers a lot of ground, from the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to the Palestine Red Crescent Society’s list of injured Palestinians to a tourist’s view of the Pyramids. But the push-pull claims of identity dominate the novel. Marshy captures the dissonance of Nadia’s feelings – being at home with Egyptian culture yet simultaneously guilty for her lack of fluency in Arabic... Despite the passionate love affair between Nadia and Manal, the novel keeps its emo­tions in check. What The Philistine does, instead, is address themes of identity, sexuality, dispossession, and privilege with care and sensitivity.
Read full review here.
June 2018, Quill & Quire

This is a terrific book
Richard King, CBC

Richard King reviews The Philistine on CBC Homerun and then tweets: 
@cbcHomerun we raved about Leila Marshy's novel The Philistine a beautifully written novel set in Cairo. Readers will love Nadia as she navigates the Cairine art scene on a voyage of self-discovery. @haikuboxer @LL_Publishing
To listen to the complete review go here
April 2018

Lyrical but keen-eyed
Danielle Barkley, Montreal Review of Books

"Nadia’s recognition that her sexuality is more fluid than she had previously understood reinforces that perhaps everything about her is likewise mutable. Marshy’s controlled prose underscores this complexity: “‘I guess I’ll stay in Cairo as long as it takes.’ Then [Nadia] added, realizing it could be anything: ‘Whatever it is.’” The beauty of The Philistine is the novel’s ability to recognize and celebrate journeying across places and into one’s self, even when the destination is perpetually shifting. 
Read more.
March 2018, Montreal Review of Books

Superior writer of fiction
Ian Thomas Shaw, Ottawa Review of Books

Leila Marshy's The Philistine, is "eloquently told in impeccable prose." The first review for Leila's wonderful first novel! 
Read more.
March 2018, Ottawa Review of Books

High praise right off the bat

“Leila Marshy beautifully captures what it's like to be at once deeply rooted and displaced, fiercely committed to truth, while enabling the lies that lovers tell.  A sweet and bitter coming-of-age story that spans – and transgresses – sexuality, culture, and countries.” 
_Ann-Marie MacDonald (Fall on Your Knees, The Way the Crow Flies)

"Leila Marshy illuminates love and identity in the streets of Cairo in a way that makes you feel you’ve watched her scenes through a high-definition kaleidoscope.” 
_Kathleen Winter (Annabel, Lost in September)

“This accomplished first novel gives us the vibrant story of Nadia’s passionate love affair with an Egyptian woman, which compels Nadia to stay in the city long enough to rediscover her father and herself. The novel delicately hints at the societal tensions that will lead to the 2011 Egyptian Revolution while depicting a rich and surprising Cairo rarely seen.” 
_Leilah Nadir (The Orange Trees of Baghdad)


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