Review: Minor Detail by Adania Shibli
Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2020
Reviewed by Amy Ferguson
In October, Minor Detail by Adania Shibl featured prominently in the news and creative circles after an award ceremony for the Palestinian author at the Frankfurt Book Fair was cancelled. The organisers cited the actions of Hamas as a pitiful excuse, one that has been repeated to silence and censor many Palestinian artists and activists in recent weeks. The indiscriminate attack launched by Hamas on the 7 October is not the responsibility of Shibli or any of the ordinary Palestinians who seek to speak out about and stand to counter the violence, loss, and life-shattering events that they have experienced at the hands of the Israeli State.
Such actions, however, were not left lingering without international condemnation by the writing community, with over 1,300 initially signing an open letter condemning the book fair’s decision. This is an important precedent to set. Every time ordinary and working-class people are lashed with imperialism’s bias against the victims of their military budgets, their coworkers, counterparts, neighbours, and the rest of us should take action to call out and oppose such actions. From protests to workplace walkouts and other forms of collective and industrial action.
The novel is split into two parts. The first half follows an Israeli army general and his troops on a mission in the Negev desert in 1948, aimed at building the foundation and reinforcements of a new Israeli settlement. Their mission is part of what we know today as ‘the Nakba’. The men spend their days performing military drills, digging out trenches, and scouring their surroundings for indigenous people. Upon finding a small group of Arab people, the soldiers shoot to kill, but take a woman as prisoner. After holding her hostage for a number of days, the soldiers then brutally rape and murder her.
The novel’s second half follows a modern-day working-class Palestinian woman in the West Bank. She stumbles upon this woman’s story, feels connected to her, and has an impulse to learn more about the woman’s life; this ‘minor detail’ of history, previously overlooked. However, our main character’s search for information is not easy. First of all, to leave her village, now under Israeli State-control, she must borrow a coworker’s ID. Her coworker is authorised to travel through more zones than her. A couple of her coworkers assist her, no questions asked, in securing what she needs to be able to leave her assigned zone.
She then has to deal with the anxieties of crossing several soldier-manned checkpoints in her search for information. The main character must also deal with the fact that the control of information is held tightly by the ruling class – a colonial, imperialist-backed regime – who are reluctant (and at times totally opposed) to allow a flow of information that would expose its full brutality and undermine its position.
Minor Detail is a fantastic novel with a poignant and sharp political message shared expertly within its short 112 pages. It’s claustrophobic, disorientating, horrible yet hopeful, and challenges us to come eye to eye with what the horrific normalisation of daily violence and control looks like for Palestinian people. A recommended read for those who want to learn more about the reality of life for Palestinians in the West Bank and beyond.