Minor Detail (novel)

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Minor Detail

Minor Detail (

Arabic: تفصيل ثانوي, romanizedTafṣīl Thānawī) is a 2017 novel by the Palestinian author Adania Shibli. It was translated into English by Elisabeth Jaquette
in 2020.

It has two parts, first recalling a true story of a 1949 gang rape and murder of a young Arab Bedouin-Palestinian girl by Israeli soldiers, and in the second part, telling of a fictional modern day account of life of a Palestinian woman who tries to investigate this incident.

The novel was nominated for a National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2020, longlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2021 and won the LiBeraturpreis [de] in 2023.


It is Shibli's third novel, written over the course of 12 years.[1] It was written in Arabic, first published in that language in 2017,[2] and translated to English by Elisabeth Jaquette in 2020.[3] It is based on a true story.[4][5]

The novel was published in Arabic in 2017. It received a number of translations since:

  • German: Eine Nebensache. Dt. von Günther Orth. Berenberg Verlag, Berlin 2022, ISBN 9783949203213
  • Spanish: Un detalle menor. Hoja de Lata Editorial, 2019, ISBN 9788416537570
  • English: Minor Detail. Fitzcarraldo Editions (UK), 2020, ISBN 9781913097172 (112 pages); New Directions Publishing (USA), ISBN 9780811229074 (105 pages); Text Publishing (Australia), ISBN 9781922268693 (176 pages)
  • French: Un détail mineur. Actes Sud, 2020, ISBN 9782330142094
  • Polish: Drobny szczegół. Wydawnictwo Drzazgi, 2023. ISBN 9788396898807
  • Portuguese: Um Detalhe Menor. Publicações Dom Quixote (Portugal), 2022, ISBN 9789722074421


Negev desert where part of the novel takes place.

The novel recounts in its first part a historical event,[4] the gang rape and murder of a young Arab Bedouin-Palestinian girl in 1949 by Israeli soldiers in the Negev desert. The second part concerns a modern-day person, an unnamed female inhabitant of Ramallah, who learns about the 1949 incident from a newspaper record, becomes haunted by it as it shares the same date as her birthday, and tries to investigate the incident by visiting museum archives (including the Israel Defense Forces History Museum). Her investigation is made difficult by the travel restriction faced by the Palestinians. Eventually, having violated the travel restrictions, she is executed by the IDF on the same spot as the Bedouin girl.[3][5][6][1][7]


In 2020 the book was reviewed for The Guardian by Anthony Cummins[3] and Fatima Bhutto.[5] Cummins called the book a "highly sophisticated narrative that pitilessly explores the limits of empathy and the desire to right... historical wrongs by giving voice to the voiceless".[3] Bhutto called Shibli's writing "subtle and sharply observed", concluding that "The book is, at varying points, terrifying and satirical; at every turn, dangerously and devastatingly good".[5]

That year the novel was also reviewed by Katie da Cunha Lewin for the Los Angeles Review of Books, da Cunha Lewin described the book as "an intense and penetrating work about the profound impact of living with violence", concluding that "Shibli’s work is powerful and this translation by Elisabeth Jaquette is rendered with exquisite clarity and quiet control".[6]

Also that year it was reviewed by Egina Manachova for the Chicago Review. Manachova referred to the novel as "sparse, unnerving, and haunting". She praised the quality of the translation, and described the binding element of the two parts of the novels as the concept of Nakba (the destruction of the Palestinian society and homeland in 1948, and the permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinian Arabs). She also comments on the fact that no characters in the novels are named, while the book also provides the changing names (formerly, Palestinian, now, Israeli) for various locations, arguing that it represents a "process of land expropriation and displacement".[1]

Christopher Linforth reviewed it also in 2020 for World Literature Today. Linforth wrote that the novel "cements [Shibli]'s position among the top ranks of Palestinian novelists working today", calling the work "short but powerful", and praising the division of novel into two parts (the "use of stylistically different timelines").[8]

Another 2020 review was published in ArtReview by Nirmala Devi. Devi summarized the theme as "ostensibly a tale about the banality of brutality and the ability of the powerful to erase the powerless", concluding that the novel and its translation are "extraordinary masterclass in how to do things with words and the lacunae in between".[9]

Writing for The New York Times, Abhrajyoti Chakraborty commented on the novel's two-part structure, writing that "perhaps the details in the two stories mirror each other because the past isn’t even past".[10]

2023 LiBeraturpreis Award controversy

Following the publication of the German edition in 2022,

William Dalrymple as well as Nobel prize winners Abdulrazak Gurnah, Annie Ernaux and Olga Tokarczuk, criticized the Frankfurt Book Fair and wrote in an open letter that the Book Fair had “a responsibility to be creating spaces for Palestinian writers to share their thoughts, feelings, reflections on literature through these terrible, cruel times, not shutting them down”.[13][14][15]

Before the Book Fair decision, the book had attracted criticism from several German critics. Ulrich Noller, a journalist on the Litprom jury, resigned from the jury in protest, claiming that the novel has “anti-Israel and antisemitic narratives". Similar sentiments were echoed by Carsten Otte [de], a literary critic associated with the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung, who criticized the book claiming it contained a white-and-black narrative: “All Israelis are anonymous rapists and killers, while the Palestinians are victims of poisoned or trigger-happy occupiers.”[15]

On 12 October, the prominent literary critic Iris Radisch spoke out in favour of the awarding of the literary prize in Die Zeit weekly magazine. She referred to the international recognition that the novel has received and that it was also "rightly celebrated as a literary masterpiece" by German literary critics. Further, Radisch wrote that an outstanding literary novel by a Palestinian writer was now being associated with the "current mass murders of Hamas" had nothing to do with serious literary criticism.[16] In his article of 13 October in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, literary scholar and journalist Paul Ingendaay [de] referred to an interview with Shibli that he had already conducted in 2022 on the occasion of the German publication of her novel. From this, Ingendaay quotes Shibli's statements as a writer who is interested in the literary representation of topics such as control and fear of a person, thereby enabling the author and reader to gain hidden insights about themselves. In summary, Ingendaay wrote that Shibli condemned any form of nationalism and had spoken out in favor of "perceiving the pain of others." In response to his questions about Shibli's identity as a Palestinian, Ingendaay continued: "In the further conversation, Shibli was wary of political statements and especially of agitation. Instead, she insisted on appreciating her novel Minor Detail — and fiction writing more generally — as a place for thinking about language, place, and identity, which always depends on who is reading it.”[17]


A number of reviewers commented on the literary style of the work. Cummins observed that "The language, as light on judgment as a stage direction, is highly disconcerting... events are recorded minutely but without emotion".[3] Bhutto commented that "The settlers and soldiers she describes in the second half of the novel are rendered with no malice or artifice".[5] Devi wrote that "The narrative is told in the third person, often coldly analytic in tone... The only emotional presence in the narrative comes in the shape of the victim’s dog. And no one can understand it either."[9] Further, Shibli's detached style has been compared to Albert CamusThe Stranger.[3]



  1. ^ a b c Manachova, Egina (2022-02-18). "Adania Shibli, Minor Detail". Chicago Review. Archived from the original on 2023-10-20. Retrieved 2023-10-19.
  2. ^ "Minor Detail: A Salon in Honor of Adania Shibli". Center for Palestine Studies | Columbia University. 2021-10-22. Archived from the original on 2023-10-23. Retrieved 2023-10-20.
  3. ^ from the original on 2023-10-20. Retrieved 2023-10-19.
  4. ^ from the original on 2023-10-21. Retrieved 2023-10-20.
  5. ^ from the original on 2023-10-20. Retrieved 2023-10-19.
  6. ^ a b da Cunha Lewin, Katie (2020-06-21). "The Choreography of Violence: On Adania Shibli's "Minor Detail"". Los Angeles Review of Books. Archived from the original on 2020-08-24. Retrieved 2023-10-19.
  7. ^ "'I Saw Fit to Remove Her From the World'". haaretz. Archived from the original on 2023-10-20. Retrieved 2023-11-15.
  8. ^ Linforth, Christopher (2020). "Minor Detail by Adania Shibli". World Literature Today. Archived from the original on 2023-06-19. Retrieved 2023-10-22.
  9. ^ a b Devi, Nirmala (28 August 2020). "'Minor Detail': Adania Shibli's Novel About Helplessness". artreview.com. Archived from the original on 2022-07-09. Retrieved 2023-10-22.
  10. from the original on 2023-10-23. Retrieved 2023-10-23.
  11. ^ Radisch, Iris (12 October 2023). "Was außerhalb der Literatur passiert. Debatte um Adania Shibli" [What happens outside of literature. Adania Shibli debate]. Die Zeit. Retrieved 2023-10-22.
  12. ^ a b "The winner 2023 / LitProm". www.litprom.de. Archived from the original on 2023-07-17. Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  13. from the original on 2023-10-15. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  14. ^ De Loera, Carlos; Kachka, Boris (2023-10-16). "More than 1,000 sign open letter decrying cancellation of German event for Palestinian author". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2023-10-16. Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  15. ^ a b AFP and ToI Staff. "Frankfurt Book Fair hit by furor after postponing prize for Palestinian author". www.timesofisrael.com. Archived from the original on 2023-10-22. Retrieved 2023-10-22.
  16. ^ Radisch, Iris (2023-10-12). "Was außerhalb der Literatur passiert" [What happens outside of Literature]. www.zeit.de (in German). Retrieved 2023-10-16.
  17. from the original on 2023-10-25. Retrieved 2023-10-24.
  18. ^ "Minor Detail". National Book Foundation. Archived from the original on 2023-10-19. Retrieved 2023-10-20.
  19. ^ "Minor Detail | The Booker Prizes". thebookerprizes.com. 2020-05-06. Archived from the original on 2023-10-19. Retrieved 2023-10-20.
  20. ^ "Adania Shibli and Elisabeth Jaquette on Minor Detail | The Booker Prizes". thebookerprizes.com. 2021-06-17. Archived from the original on 2023-10-23. Retrieved 2023-10-20.