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Hidden in the Details: Adania Shibli

In conversation with Maaza Mengiste about language, borders and all the minor details making up our reality.

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The year is 1949, and the state of Israel is in its infancy. In the Negev desert, bordering Egypt, Israeli armed forces have set up camp with the mission to “cleanse it of any remaining Arabs” after the war the preceding year. They happen upon a Beduin family, a teenage girl among them, whom the soldiers rape, kill and bury in the desert.

In present-day Ramallah, a young woman discovers these events through a small newspaper story. It catches her attention because the events took place exactly 25 years before the day she was born. The woman becomes compelled to find out what actually happened in that desert, and embarks upon a highly dangerous journey to come to the bottom of the story.

Adania Shibli is a critically acclaimed Palestinian writer, and holds a PhD in media and cultural studies. She has published three novels in Arabic, and Minor Detail is the first to be translated into Norwegian. While slim in size, the novel contains far more than the modest number of pages would suggest. Shibli explores themes such as belonging and loss, depicting the everyday absurdities under a normalized occupation. Shibli’s language is precise and sparse, the story concise. The many gaps in the story creates a tension, quivering beneath the surface and increasing by each page.

The novel was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2021, and in 2023, it won the prestigious German LiBeraturpreis. However, they chose to postpone the award ceremony indefinitely after Hamas’s terror attack on October 7th and Israel’s following war on Gaza, a decision met with extensive criticism internationally.

At the House of Literature, Shibli will meet writer colleague Maaza Mengiste for a conversation about language, the past, borders and all the minor details that make up our reality.


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