Longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award, 2011.
Celebrated young Palestinian writer Shibli—a playwright, author and essayist now located in the UK—makes her American debut with an exquisite, powerful novella that transports readers to her West Bank homeland. In spare prose, Shibli follows an unnamed little girl, the youngest in a large Palestinian family, as she examines her world and tries to understand her place in it. Though focused on the finest details—flakes of rust against skin, the softness of grass—Shibli takes readers to the center of a family and a culture, using the same careful, dispassionate observation to report everyday events like the father's shaving as she does to depict the death of a sibling in area violence. Like a great volume of poetry, Shibli's first novel (her second is forthcoming from Clockroot) has rhythm and unexpected momentum, and cries for re-reading.
Shibli is widely recognized as an innovative writer who is breaking literary tradition in her native Arabic, and it is no small feat that the English translation of Touch (Clockroot Books, 2010) is strikingly innovative as well.... Whatever it is—a dream, memory fragments, poems folded into sun and grass—Touch is both remarkable and difficult, beautifully lucid and yet also mysterious... This is not a book to be shelved once finished. It calls to you softly, insistently, until you pick it up again and allow yourself to be tugged back in, seeking truth. The Russian writer Anton Chekhov famously said a story should not answer questions but pose them, and perhaps this is what Touch can be called, a question, rather than a novel—that place from where all searches begin.
Shibli writes nonjudgmentally, in a gripping, universal voice, about everyday lives and disappointments. Her triumph is an inspiration.
By leaving the convention of “story” behind, [Touch is] freed to become more about the elements that made that story real: the colors, the language, the movement. It was always meant to be more felt than read.
The most talked-about writer on the West Bank.
Adania Shibli is one of my most favorite Arab writers not because she is a fellow Palestinian—although that certainly helps—but because I simply believe she has created for herself in recent years something that, especially for a young writer, is hard to achieve: a solid literary presence, a distinct voice, and a unique style.
Touch allows entrance into the quiet interior of a girl’s life on the West Bank. It is fiction. It is sparse. I wouldn’t call it lyrical, that overused word, wouldn’t call it poetic, wouldn’t call it sentimental. It is dry as the chalky landscape of the West Bank itself... Touch grows on you. The subtleties add up.
The original title of the beautiful book by Adania Shibli in Arabic sounds like “Masas,” an untranslatable term that means “touch the soul.” And a touch, or better, a profound interior feeling, envelops this story set in a Palestinian village, beautiful like certain places that are full of sun and light. It is the story of a female child looking for an opening through which to enter the world of the others.
One of the most exciting voices in Arabic literature.