Minor Detail begins during the summer of 1949, one year after the war that the Palestinians mourn as the Nakba—the catastrophe that led to the displacement and exile of some 700,000 people—and the Israelis celebrate as the War of Independence. Israeli soldiers murder an encampment of Bedouin in the Negev desert, and among their victims they capture a Palestinian teenager and they rape her, kill her, and bury her in the sand.

Many years later, in the near-present day, a young woman in Ramallah tries to uncover some of the details surrounding this particular rape and murder, and becomes fascinated to the point of obsession, not only because of the nature of the crime, but because it was committed exactly twenty-five years to the day before she was born. Adania Shibli masterfully overlays these two translucent narratives of exactly the same length to evoke a present forever haunted by the past.

Published by New Directions in May 2020!

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Partly painful, partly disturbing; wholly honest and impacting. August 1949, a year after the Nakba: an Israeli soldier, along with other officers undertaking a routine patrol while clearing the Negev Desert, gang rape and murder a young Arab woman. Near-present day, Ramallah: a Palestinian woman reads an account of this incident and feels compelled to trace the horrific details—the importance of which, detail that is, she compares to the little strokes of an authorial signature that art historians can point out the omission of to mark the signature as a forged one—despite the unsettling normalization of such incidents that “aren’t out of the ordinary”.

The first part narrates through a third person with a cold tone as the Israeli soldier gets infected with an insect bite, his body gradually rots and his obsession to patrol the desert for stray Arabs continues. Spiders, petrol, soap suds, thorn acacia, and dogs are only some of the recurring motifs that expand on ominous bonds connecting the past and the present; indicative of how sadly static the world remains during and after devastating echoes. The hypnotic repetition speaks for not just this one single incident that the young women says she’s looking evidence of, but also for an entire history selfishly omitted and an entire present cruelly barriered. Whether it’s a museum displaying exhibits from the 1948 war without bearing any shadows of the soldiers’ actions, or life under Israeli occupation where checkpoints and curfews are the norm, the unnamed narrator of the second part continues to search the desert landscapes with the help of older maps that show what used to be.

Through a descriptive writing that transcends the changing time and perspectives, this translated tale with saddening dead ends long-listed for 2021 International Book Prize unravels brutality and helplessness of a landscape where sands of the story shift to reconstruct the truth—from centre to periphery, from major to minor—while “nothing moved except the mirage”. The tension of the narration’s distant mental state echoes a frequency of dissociation, dispossession, and disempowerment while occupying forces haunt the bodies and memories of a land that was once home and is now a settlement.

my rating ↣ ★★★★★

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