Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 4, 2011

Touch (2010), by Adania Shibli, translated by Paula Haydar

Touch is a very small book, only 72 pages long, but it bears the weight of the conflict that has shaped global politics throughout my lifetime.  Shibli is a Palestinian author and this themed collection of prose poems alludes only lightly to the death and mourning that seems almost to be a daily event in the Middle East.  However there is a sense of a child seeing and hearing things that ought not to be in any child’s childhood.  It’s poignant, and moving.

The book is themed loosely around the five senses which dominate the world of the young girl: colours, silence, movement, language, the Wall –  but it is the disengaged emotion which resonates with the reader.  This child has learned to watch and observe, not to express her feelings.  To do so invites guilt for an intemperate outburst.

The third person narration distances the child from us; she is un-named and not located anywhere in particular.  We know that she is Palestinian because of the allusions to religion, because of her poverty and because of the Wall.  There are words that children should not know, such as revenge, and grief…

The mother’s grief and prayer mixed together; she wept when she was praying and when she wept, bits of prayers spilled out, as though the tears had erased some of the letters or words, as rain had once erased the girl’s dictation notebook. (p61)

But because we in the west see very little in the media about Palestine other than through the prism of the conflict with Israel, there are also surprises.  A protest burning of hay ricks has nothing to do with Arab-Israeli politics, it’s a protest against nature conservationists limiting free movement of shepherds and their flocks.

The translation is excellent.  I found myself wondering if the word ‘touch’ has the same double meaning in Arabic as it does in English, because it’s a clever choice for the title.  It is a ‘touching’ book, one that engages the reader and brings the reality of day-to-day life amidst an intractable conflict to life.

I don’t usually discuss film on this blog, but for those who would like to understand more about the impact of the Wall, I’d like to suggest the Israeli-made film Lemon Tree.

Author: Adania Shibli
Title: Touch
Translator: Paula Haydar
Publisher: Clockroot Books, 2010
ISBN: 9781566568074
Source: Private loan – thanks, Jenny!


  1. This looks like a really interesting book. Thank you for the review.


  2. That book must have been a labour of love, almost an artistic creation with the writer mediating on the five senses in the context of the Wall. We recently had a wonderful three part dramatisation of the roots of the conflict on our Channel 4 – perhaps the media I use tends toward the liberal end of the spectrum but I seem to read quite a lot about the wall


  3. Now, what a touching review of this book. Thanks. I would love to read it. It’s so easy to forget that life goes on (in any form) in conflict areas. Thank you.


    • I will send it to you, Kinna. Please email me a postal address using the email address right at the bottom of the RHS menu in the copyright yada yada.


  4. […] humanise the Middle East Conflict, and I thought that Touch was a powerful voice for Palestine (see my review) but Mornings in Jenin was a […]


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