cover image Minor Detail

Minor Detail

Adania Shibli, trans. from the Arabic by Elizabeth Jaquette. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2907-4

Shibli’s startling, cinematic novel (after Touch) centers on crimes against Palestinians in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War and in the present. In August 1949, a group of Israeli soldiers enters the Negev, a desert region in southern Israel, led by an unnamed maniacal officer who’s secretly suffering from a venomous bug bite. The soldiers ambush and kill a group of unarmed Bedouins, then return to their camp with the sole survivor, a young Arab woman whose tragic fate is tied to the officer’s rapidly deteriorating state. In the 2000s, a Palestinian woman in the West Bank reads an article about these events and becomes obsessed with learning more after realizing they occurred 25 years to the day before she was born. Borrowing a colleague’s ID card to leave the West Bank and enter Israel, despite her fear of borders, which “shake and destabilize me to the point that I can no longer fathom what is permissible and what is not,” she heads to the site of the crime. Shibli’s masterly, acidic work of subtle symbolism and plot symmetry gives no access to the thoughts of the Israeli soldiers or their victim, making the Palestinian woman’s subsequent first-person narration all the more arresting. This is a remarkable exercise in dramatizing a desire for justice. (May)