By Adania Shibli
Translated from the Arabic by Paula Haydar
Clockroot Books, 2010
“Touch,” a novella by Adania Shibli, follows the story of a young Palestinian girl and of the marriage that carries her to the other side of Israeli’s Wall as someone’s wife. Translated by Paula Haydar, who has a history of translating innovative Arabic literature, the novella reads like a prose poem divided into five parts, all of which appeal to the senses. The story is told from the viewpoint of the young girl as she hovers over adulthood with the backdrop of Palestinian politics lurking overhead. In a minimalist narrative, the pervading silence intensifies the fleeting sensations of childhood. In the first section, “Colors,” each brief chapter reads like a paintbrush of color in a landscape of Palestine that quietly moves to the absence of color, a white bridal gown. In “Silences,” the second section, an ear infection brings the young girl a temporary “paradise of silence” interrupted by the domestic sounds of quarreling and her brother’s death. As an adult, she reclaims a “voluntary” silence in her marriage. In the delicate section, “Movement,” the young girl captures the natural beauty of her mother’s prayer “as if it were the wind.” In language, the young girl finds both comfort and isolation in the power of words. The novella concludes with “the Wall” as the bride “sits on the bridal seat all alone, embracing the wall with her eyes.” While not for those who prefer a linear narrative, “Touch” lives up to its title leaving the reader with an ethereal collection of domestic images of Palestinian life trapped behind a cement wall.
This review appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 16, no. 63
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