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Minor Detail Review: Split History 

posted on: May 22, 2024

Minor Detail Book Cover

Here, some might think that my dedication to work reflects a desire to cling to life, or a love for life despite the occupation’s attempt to destroy it, or the insistence that we have on this earth what makes life worth living. Well, I certainly cannot for anyone else, but in my case it’s rather that I am unable to evaluate situations rationally, and I do not know what should or not should be done. 

Adania Shibli, Minor Detail

To narrate history is to possess a geography of control. The Nakba transliterated from Arabic to English as “Catastrophe” was the period in Israeli-Palestinian history where the indigenous Arab population was forcefully displaced from their lands for the transformation of what was previously known as Palestine to become the State of Israel. In 1948, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion approved of Plan Dalet; hence ethnic cleansing was enforced, creating of what were citizens 800,000 Palestinian refugees. The two-part novel Minor Detail by Adania Shibli recounts the true story of the Negev gang rape of a teenage Bedouin girl by Israeli soldiers in 1949. 

Without needle-to-skin hesitancy or sentimentality, Shibli writes the first part of the novel with a discomforting surveillance camera distance as the reader is placed on what is a routinary and mundane exercise of violence: rape. Amidst controlled and psychologically tamed passages of the Negev desert as the landscape scenery of the unnamed characters of this tragic event, Shibli’s prose furnishes the reader with how this moment in history was to be disposed of and forgotten, just like the unidentifiable body and name of the girl. Twenty-five years after the event, the second part of the novel elapses¬ history marks a boundary that will be crossed. Replicating the narrative pattern of anonymity¬ being identifiable creates a target¬ the unnamed first-person narrator embarks on a journey to uncover the story of the Negev gang rape. Minor Detailblurs the stark division of present-tense and pastness as both the teenage girl rape victim and the unnamed narrator from Ramallah inhabit or would have inhabited a land encoded with restrictions of what is permitted language. Adania Shibi’s Minor Detail is a novel that oscillates between recovering what is deemed historic uncertainty and falling prey to the certainty of punishment and checkpoint crossing consequences. 

Crossing Through Ancestry’s Checkpoints  

BBC News Israel Checkpoint Map

The borders imposed between things here are many, one must pay attention to them and navigate them, which ultimately protects everyone from perilous consequences. 

            Adania Shibli, Minor Detail

Inside the novel’s first section, the psychologically distanced portrait of the Israeli displacement of the Bedouin people in the Negev desert grows into the second section’s wandering to unground the story of the ruins of the Negev’s rape event. In Zeina G. Halabi’s “Who’s Afraid of a Minor Detail? Adania Shibli and Specters of Literature and the Body”, Habi explains how the connection between the first-person narrator and unnamed victim shares a phantasmagoric relationship: “the memory of unacknowledged violence”. In the daily life of Palestinian people, navigating checkpoints marks the limitations of who is recognized as human in correlation to citizenship status. As the narrator goes on her journey to learn about the Negev incident, she explains how leaving the settlement from West Bank into access to Israel implicate the coming and going from places of invisibility to partial visibility. And it is in the land where she is a non-citizen, Israel, that the body of the woman who she longs to mourn lies- a place defined by its absolution of grievances.  

When the unnamed narrator arrives at the Israeli historical archives outside of Tel Aviv, the documents and visual materials she encounters diametrically oppose the generational memory of a colonial subject: the settlers established themselves not to dismantle but to coexist with their ancestral history- the Palestinian people appear invisible by their omission. Throughout Minor Detail, especially when approaching the end, both land and memory are fractured- there is something palpably missing. In the travels to find the burial ground of the girl raped in the Negev event, it is unraveled how both past and present Palestinian women can be easily disappeared from land or memory- they are just but minor details of Palestine’s ongoing tragedy. 


After October 7th’s Hamas terrorist attacks, the far-right has weaponized the narrative of this monstrosity to censor Arab voices. The recognition of Adania Shibili’s work on a world stage such as at Frankfurt Book Fair was postponed as a response to the event’s organizers who believed it would be insensitive to the victims of the Hamas attack. Minor Detailassaults the reader by its omission of names, all¬ both victims and perpetrators¬ are anonymous regardless of the magnitude of importance their actions play in the nation-building narrative of Israel. Shibili’s work assumes non-neutrality but one that is non-judgmental in its signaling of Israeli violence- the horror committed does not hold an identifiable human face. Reading Minor Detail in times of war and reactionary protests opens the possibility to fight not only for the victims whose faces we see on our TV screens but to fight for the memory of those that have been forgotten. 

Works Cited 

Bhutto , Fatima. “Minor Detail by Adania Shibli Review – Horror in the Desert.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 May 2020,

Cummins, Anthony. “Minor Detail by Adania Shibli Review – between-the-Lines Horror.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 June 2020,

Halabi , Zeila  G. “Who’s Afraid of (a) Minor Detail? Adania Shibli and Specters of the Disaster on Literature and the Body.” TRAFO, 26 Oct. 2023,

Shibli, Adania. Minor Detail. Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette. Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2020. 

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