Minor Detail

Adania Shibli

Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

Published 6 May 2020 | French paperback with flaps, 120 pages
Longlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize | Shortlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature

Read preview

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 expulsion of more than 700,000 people – and the Israelis celebrate as the War of Independence. Israeli soldiers capture and rape a young Palestinian woman, and kill and bury her in the sand. Many years later, a woman in Ramallah becomes fascinated to the point of obsession with this ‘minor detail’ of history. A haunting meditation on war, violence and memory, Minor Detail cuts to the heart of the Palestinian experience of dispossession, life under occupation, and the persistent difficulty of piecing together a narrative in the face of ongoing erasure and disempowerment.

Times Books of the Year 2020

‘An extraordinary work of art, Minor Detail is continuously surprising and absorbing: a very rare blend of moral intelligence, political passion and formal virtuosity.’
— Pankaj Mishra, author of The Age of Anger

‘Adania Shibli takes a gamble in entrusting our access to the key event in her novel – the rape and murder of a young Bedouin woman – to two profoundly self-absorbed narrators – an Israeli psychopath and a Palestinian amateur sleuth high on the autism scale – but her method of indirection justifies itself fully as the book reaches its heart-stopping conclusion.’
— J. M. Coetzee, 2003 Nobel Prize-winner

‘Adania Shibli’s exceptional novel Minor Detail belongs to the genre of the novel as resistance, as revolutionary text. As we join the nameless young woman in her quest to find the truth of a long-forgotten atrocity, we realize how dangerous it is to reclaim life and history in the face of ongoing, systematic erasure. The narrative tempo, that eventually reaches a crescendo, astutely captures how alienation and heightened anxiety are elemental states of living under Israeli occupation. This is the political novel we have all been waiting for.’
— Meena Kandasamy, author of When I Hit You

‘Written with an exquisite, tactile, and deceptive simplicity, Minor Detail tells the story of a woman’s violation and murder in the aftermath of the Palestinian catastrophe and the founding of the Israeli state, and of another woman’s curiosity about this “minor detail” in the modern day. Immediately after I finished reading this miraculous novel, I read it again; both times, it sliced through my heart. I believe it will be one for the ages.’
— Isabella Hammad, author of The Parisian

‘All novels are political and Minor Detail, like the best of them, transcends the author’s own identity and geography. Shibli’s writing is subtle and sharply observed.’
Fatima Bhutto, Guardian

‘A sophisticated, oblique novel about empathy and the urge to right wrongs.’
Anthony Cummins, Observer

‘Though Minor Detail initially promises to be a kind of counterhistory or whodunit – a rescue of the victim’s story from military courts and Israeli newspapers – it turns out to be something stranger and bleaker. Rather than a discovery of hidden truths, or a search for justice, it is a meditation on the repetitions of history, the past as a recurring trauma…. For Shibli, the emblematic experience of occupation is the longue durée of ennui and isolation rather than the dramatic moment of crisis.’
Robyn Cresswell, New York Review of Books

‘What links these two stories? Borders, of course, but also some weird echoes. The woman from Ramallah sneaks into Israel to find out more, for there may be “nothing more important than this little detail, if one wants to arrive at the complete truth.” Shibli delicately suggests that the “complete truth” of the crime [in Minor Detail] might never be found out, that perhaps the details in the two stories mirror each other because the past isn’t even past.’
— Abhrajyoti Chakraborty, New York Times 

‘Shibli has created a powerful set of dual heroines, women wracked with disquiet and violence, resisting the frames that have first, been chosen for them, then denied to have ever existed. This is an astonishing, major book.’
John Freeman, Lithub

‘The most talked-about writer on the West Bank.’
— Ahdaf Soueif

‘An intense and penetrating work about the profound impact of living with violence – Shibli’s work is powerful and this translation by Elisabeth Jaquette is rendered with exquisite clarity and quiet control.’
— Katie da Cunha Lewin, Los Angeles Review of Books

‘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.’

‘In Elisabeth Jaquette’s fine translation from Arabic, Shibli asks how we can account for and understand major crimes, by looking more closely for the details that escape.’
— Prospect

‘While Minor Detail is certainly captivating for its spare and powerful style, it is its grappling with such fundamental questions about the production, preservation, and destruction of the past, as well as the ways in which these conditions determine which futures can be imagined, that makes it a work of undeniable political urgency.’
— Stinging Fly

‘In its broad strokes, Minor Detail is a blistering allegory about state violence and the conscription of women’s bodies. In its minor details, it offers a piercing account of everyday life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.’
— Saturday Paper

Minor Detail has the qualities of a classic: original, distinctive, determined; revealing everything, while dictating nothing.’
Selma Dabbagh, Electronic Intifada

‘It is brutal, hypnotic and haunting.’
The Monthly

‘The formal triumph of Minor Detail lies in its circumscribed focus. By honing in on a single incident, breaking it down into its constituent parts, exploring its reverberations through time, Shibli leads the reader to imagine the thousands of such minor details that have been erased from the historical record.’
The Baffler

Minor Detail can be read as the blackest of black comedies, in orbit about tragedy as rings around a dark planet. The abject is the centre of gravity here, and we may only approach so close before words themselves are crushed.’
Sydney Morning Herald

‘It is a novel of protest, a work of resistance against injustice. Driven forward by a need to uncover the truth, the novel in its two parts moves from sweeping agoraphobia to gripping claustrophobia. It demands empathy but seldom shows it, amplifying the scale of the catastrophe. The tension, the ceaseless and captivating pace of the book over its one-hundred-and-five pages, comes from its refusal to look away. The invisible is made visible. The out-of-focus is rewound and replayed. And the minor details are lost in yellow seas.’
Joshua Jones, Litro

‘The power of this book is undeniable. The two halves close around you. I am here for whatever Shibli writes.’
— Daisy Johnson, author of Everything Under

Adania Shibli was born in Palestine in 1974. Her first two novels appeared in English with Clockroot Books as Touch (tr. Paula Haydar, 2010) and We Are All Equally Far From Love (tr. Paul Starkey, 2012). She was awarded the Young Writer’s Award by the A. M. Qattan Foundation in 2002 and 2004. Minor Detail was shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2020, and longlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2021.

Elisabeth Jaquette is an award-winning translator from the Arabic, whose work includes Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue, Rania Mamoun’s Thirteen Months of Sunrise, and Dima Wannous’s The Frightened Ones. She is also executive director of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA).