In the summer of 1949, one year after 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from Israel during what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe, and Israelis call the War of Independence, a group of Israeli soldiers rape and murder a teenage Palestinian girl. In the near-present day, a young woman in Ramallah—who was born exactly 25 years after the crime—becomes fascinated with the case to the point of obsession, venturing into Israel to search for missing details.
Adania Shibli's Minor Detail is an intense and penetrating work about the profound impact of living with violence, whether it occurred in the past or contemporaneously ... Though the time period and perspectives change, Shibli’s writing is always extraordinarily descriptive, minutely detailing each movement that either protagonist makes. In a place in which the borders and landscapes are changing all the time, Shibli gives a sense that all that can be counted on is the discrete physical movements of a person’s body ... In this novel...injustice is about only one event, recognized by one person many years after it occurred. But this does not lessen the horror of it, and by writing the horrifying event in the present, Shibli renders the viciousness in stark simplicity. Though a spare novel, Shibli’s work is powerful and this translation by Elisabeth Jaquette is rendered with exquisite clarity and quiet control.
As a literary project, a historical record, and a translation, Minor Detail is, simply put, brilliant ... the narrative proceeds with the technical, methodical precision of a military operation ... The prose is sparse and cutting, bare enough to progress without passing judgment ... s a book that says precisely what it needs to say—nothing less, nothing more. And I mean this as the greatest complement, the highest form of praise. Shibli writes to both give voice and honor silence; Jaquette does the same, rendering her prose with a sharpness that pulls us along, on edge. There is pain, here. But there is history, too. The smell of gasoline. The sound of a dog howling. A simple stick of chewing gum, reminding us of how the world gives and takes, and how we, as humans, are complicit in the act.
... the language stripped down to irreducible details, the narrative built up from a pattern of glinting images ... Shibli’s most ambitious novel to date ... A critic and occasional curator as well as a novelist and playwright, Shibli is an intensely visual writer. The extreme economies of her style—blending aphorism and enigma, dry humor and searing critique—recall the novellas of César Aira and Mario Bellatin, two writers equally loved by artists, as well as the later prose works of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. But the first part of Minor Detail is so vividly composed that it almost reads like cinema, bringing to mind scenes from Claire Denis’s landmark film Beau Travail ... In the second part, Shibli’s supreme attentiveness to the landscape, to the grotesque details of the outer world and her character’s peculiar way of seeing them, nearly obscures the novel’s inner purpose—which is to question, provocatively and on several levels (literary, philosophical, political, forensic), what makes a story true...To Shibli’s great credit, she leaves the question open as the plot takes over ... in the act of writing such an evocative, tightly wrought fiction, in her invention of such a complex, fighting character who is at once the victim’s double and the author’s stand-in, Shibli not only reflects the deadening conditions of occupation. She also, crucially, transcends the damage they have done.