May 27, 2024

A minor detail… the absent conscience of the victim’s voice

Minor Detail

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A year after the 1948 war, the novel “Minor Detail” by Palestinian author Adania Shibli, published by  Dar Al-Adab, begins. The English translation of this 127-page novel made it to the longlist for International Booker Prize in 2021. The story opens with a haunting silence in the vast Negev desert, at the moment when the Israeli occupation army decided to demarcate the southern border with Egypt to prevent any infiltrators and to cleanse the area of Arabs, suspecting it to be a route used by infiltrators into the occupied territories.

The title as an introduction to the text

Starting with the title, the author clearly indicates the tool she employed to write the novel: the minor details that contribute to constructing the central narrative of any story. Throughout the work, she meticulously describes the conditions of the desert, detailing how the occupation soldiers interact with it and adapt to its climate. At the same time, she portrays their relentless efforts to clear the desert of Arabs, even if they are civilians such as Bedouins and its original inhabitants.

Adania Shibli writes this scene, which she chose as the opening of her narrative, in a silent and detached language that does not align with the emotions of an author driven by her cause. It is as if she felt a certain estrangement while writing this scene, recounting the details of an incident that occurred in August 1949, beginning with her description of the place and time in which the story unfolds.

Later, she describes the scene of the occupation forces setting up a camp with soldiers’ tents and equipment, followed by orders for daily drills and military maneuvers to train the soldiers in combat methods under desert conditions and to adapt to its harsh climate. The author captures the details obscured by identity conflicts, relying on subtle shifts to perceive the relationship between a person and their homeland. She conveys that identity is not merely a hollow claim of belonging to a geographical location; it is an attribute that roots itself in one’s connection to the climate, landscape, and environment that shape the culture, thus linking an individual’s comprehensive sense to the identity of the homeland.

The Novel of the Absent Voice

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