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Touch

Posted: Aug 05 2010

Touch

Adania Shibli LL19,500 Clockroot Books

How often do we encounter a novelist whose writing is alchemic – whose heartrending eye for beauty seems to cause our perceptions of the world to change their substance?

For the small protagonist of ‘Touch’, the youngest girl in a Palestinian family of ten, Adania Shibli has created a world of both ex- traordinary lightness and devastating intensity. A lightness of touch,a sense of distance, that allows the vision of the little girl to speak powerfully to events too harrowing to explain – the death of a brother, the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, the great questions that face her people. In the face of these, she is detached, confused, slightly mocking – it is the intensity with which she lives small experiences that turn her world intoa wonderland both beautiful and terrible, extraordinary though mundane.

Playing with flakes of rust floods the whole world with gold, an ear infection tears it apart in rushes of impossible sound and dreadful silence, counting passing cars can give answers to the most impossible questions. Shibli does not seek to cast new light on a world already worn out with its own troubles, already weighed down with political analysis. Instead, she elevates famil- iar days and domestic stories into a sensory phantasmagoria, borne of extreme sensitivity and imagination.

The newest writing in the Middle East is often full of wonder, often full of pain, two of the keenest expressions of our modernity. ‘Touch’ encompasses both themes, and also something else, that transcends any regional or political ideas – this small volume simply offers one of the greatest pleasures of literature. Its lines enchant, challenge and inspire, and through them you learn to see the world a little differently, to see its beauty in places you never thought to look. Ellen Hardy

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