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Minor Detail by Adania Shibli: A book review

case study on shameful brutality

Wars have shaped our societies. We can’t deny that. Wars have time and again proved that humans possess the power to destroy all of humanity and other possible life on this earth. Enablers of war, the heads of state who ravage war onto other nations don’t like being called out. They don’t want to hear the aftermath of their mission that was meant to restore peace on disturbed land. Loss of infrastructure, social order, economy are generally the most talked about topics.

Women have been treated as a commodity in dreadful times of war throughout human history. History has witnessed how women are taken along as war tributes, trophies, like cattle living on the whim of their masters, or slaves in the medieval period, or comfort girls in more recent times. The fate of women is written brutally by these men who consider themselves as demigods with no one to question their righteousness.

Adania Shibli’s novel Minor detail is divided into two parts with one sharing the gruesome fate of an Arab girl who was repeatedly raped by Israeli soldiers day in and day out, only to kill and bury her in an unnamed grave in the middle of the desert. Sharing the fate with thousands of other Arabs who were disposed after the 1949 war, which for Israel is the war of independence and for Arab is Nakba, the Palestinian exodus. The war culminated in the establishment of the State of Israel by the Jews and saw a complete demographic transformation of the territory that the Jews occupied, with the displacement of around 700,000 Palestinian Arabs and the destruction of most of their urban areas.

Written in a third-person perspective, as if time itself is taking note of the emotionless, sadist commanders and their men while they live in trenches. They repeat the same tasks of cleaning, cooking, and patrolling as if spirits from an unknown forgotten time period are serving the newly formed nation. The minor captivated girl mirrors the same cold presence that in a way embodies death. As she screams and cries, her pains reverberate through her dog that is equally helpless. In between the lines, lies a horror tale of war, tormenting the psychological health of both combatants and non-combatants equally. The violence of war is shown in their behavior towards the girl without remorse of any kind.

The second part of the book shares the tale of inquisitive yet an anxious, insomniac girl living in one of the Palestinian zones of Israel. The distress of living in a region occupied by enemies is shown through her daily actions. Yet everything to her seems normal. Like the bombing of neighborhood houses, closed roads, multiple checkpoints, is as normal as bargaining prices of wilted vegetables from the lone shop owner in a curfewed street! The narrative style is so minute, mind-numbing and the vibrant visuals of the streets transported me as a reader to the very place.

While one may have different views regarding the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine but there is no doubt in the fact that it comes with a cost. The definition of normal life changes with one’s position. The book is like a case study and story of one such event that happened during the war and how wars like these leave their footprints for generations to come. The psychological trauma of losing their homeland, family members, friends, war-torn country, complete annihilation of villages after villages, and living with broken memories. It is a masterpiece and a short, simple, impactful read. Adania’s mission to address the very fact that how easy it is to erase the complete identity of powerless by a very powerful entity is successful.

This book is a lesson on how mental health is equally important. The peaceful nations send over their troops to far-off places and destroy the exact peace that they boast about in their homeland. The commanders and soldiers become emotionless after seeing the entire massacre that they bring to life. The usage of a woman for a moment of pleasure and then killing her mercilessly shows the mindset of those involved in this. War becomes the new normal for the locals as well as the troops.

The book explains to us how easy it is to take peace for granted. One night you go to sleep and the next morning the army troops have surrounded you. When we talk about war atrocities, it’s too easy to label people as disruptors of peace and sympathizers of the troubled land. But how do we deny the bloodshed, of both the parties. We take peace for granted and then one day you fall into someone’s line of duty and he decides to erase you from existence or rape you till death. Is that why women were not allowed in armies for the longest time so that either side cannot take them as trophies.

This can easily be said to be a propaganda book, but it’s not. I have nothing for or against any of the countries mentioned in this book. I only empathize with the characters and experience the pain through their story. It’s a well-choreographed show of brutality, violence on one side and helplessness, broken families on the other.


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.

Minor detail by Adania Shibli (translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette) is published by Fitzcarralado Edition and order your copy buy here.


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.

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