Postscript to ‘Indefinite Postponement’: Adania Shibli Breaks Silence on Frankfurt Book Fair Decision and Finds a Voice in the Absence of Words

Naomi Pham
Photograph of Adania Shibli from the French newspaper Libération.
When the Frankfurt Book Fair announced last October the “indefinite postponement” of Palestinian author Adania Shibli’s award for her novel “Minor Detail,” outrage erupted among critics not just in the Arab world but globally, with numerous translators, publishers, and award-winning authors condemning the decision in an open letter. Shibli has made few comments since the cancellation of the award ceremony but has broken her silence on the situation in a recent article published on January 15, 2024 in the French newspaper Libération, which has been translated and published in Arabic in Al Modon. She writes, “I have been unable to access my feelings since the latest cruelties have crossed a new threshold and been unleashed against people in Palestine/Israel. Despair paralyzed my soul. Or emptiness. The words have disappeared, they have abandoned me.”
First published in Arabic, Shibli’s “Minor Detail” has been translated into over five languages since its original publication in 2017. The novel’s German translation by Günther Orth, published in 2022, had been slated to receive Germany’s LiBeraturpreis prize at the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair last October before the awarding ceremony was suddenly canceled. LitProm, the awarding administration, and the book fair canceled the ceremony after a journalist in the German daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung accused the novel of propagating violence against Israel. Shibli expresses that her initial reactions to the article left her with “the impression of a cynical attempt to distract from the real pain, that of others, that we ourselves cannot experience or have access to in the first place.”
(Al Jadid recently published a feature on the Frankfurt Book Fair’s postponement of Adania Shibli’s award, “Six Years After Publication, Zionist Protests Transform Adania Shibli’s ‘Minor Detail’ Into a Major Detail” by Elie Chalala, in the latest issue, Al Jadid, Vol. 27, No. 84, 2023.)
Excerpted from "Postscript to ‘Indefinite Postponement’: Adania Shibli Breaks Silence on Frankfurt Book Fair Decision and Finds a Voice in the Absence of Words" by Naomi Pham, scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 28, No. 85, 2024.
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