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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Adania Shibli

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To purchase Touch

Title: Touch
Author: Adania Shibli
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 72 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: Touch - US
Touch - UK
Touch - Canada
Reflets sur un mur blanc - France
Sensi - Italia
  • Arabic title: مساس
  • Translated by Paula Haydar

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Our Assessment:

B : fine small collection of impressions and experiences from a child's perspective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Jordan Times . 31/5/2010 Sally Bland
Le Monde diplomatique . 12/2004 Marina da Silva
Le Monde diplomatique . 1/2008 Sonya Orfalian
The National . 2/7/2010 Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

  From the Reviews:
  • "With sparse but highly expressive prose, Adania Shibli draws the reader into a whole new world. Granted, it is the real world, the one we live in and supposedly observe every day, but the authorís probing style catalyses a radical reawakening of the senses. The readerís perception is drawn into new layers of reality, once known but usually pushed aside and forgotten, except by the remarkable few. With her pen, Shibli does what all good artists do -- bringing to light a new view of the world." - Sally Bland, The Jordan Times

  • "S’il n’y est pas directement question d’occupation, de dépossession et de terreur, ce récit tout à la fois énigmatique et intime d’un être et d’une histoire qui se construisent et se dérobent témoigne d’une présence au monde totalement ancrée dans l’histoire et sa conscience." - Marina da Silva, Le Monde diplomatique

  • "Il titolo originale del bel libro di Adania Shibli in arabo suona «Masas», un termine intraducibile che indica il «toccare l'anima». E un toccare, o meglio, un sentire profondo, interiore, avvolge questa vicenda ambientata in un villaggio palestinese, bello come sono belli certi luoghi pieni di sole e di luce. È la storia di una bambina alla ricerca di uno spiraglio per accedere al mondo degli altri." - Sonya Orfalian, Le Monde diplomatique

  • "There is no setting, no character development, no detectable sequence of events set in motion. Divided into five chapters, the book barely tells a story at all. Instead, Touch purrs along like an extended prose poem -- all words and sounds and images -- as Shibli picks up the glinting fragments of the girl's experience, then turns them over in her hand to see how they refract the light of a world so radically constricted and reduced." - Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, The National

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Touch is a very short book -- the text very generously spaced across a mere 72 pages -- that centers on the impressions and experiences of a young girl in a large family. Five chapters -- 'Colors', 'Silence', 'Movement', 'Language', and 'The Wall' --, each further divided into short sections, each focus on a different aspect of or event from life, mixing the everyday and the (small-scale) extraordinary as experienced by this child.
       Referred to only as 'the girl' or 'the little girl', this central figure is not so much uncomprehending as simply still unable to differentiate between what is significant and not. The youngest of many children, she is one among many, easily overlooked, rarely the center of attention for any lengths of times. Even where briefly the focus -- as when her parents take her to the doctor because of an ear infection -- she soon enough finds herself one among many again. Most frequently, however, she also seems entirely on her own, if not physically than at least in her own little world; indeed, despite her being part of such a crowded household there is a strong sense of personal solitude (and even separation that hints at eventual isolation) throughout the text.
       Much of the description is spare and simple yet evocative, the juxtapositions quite artfully presented here where: "The whole place seethed with waiting", as there is a constant tension between passivity and possibility, while most action still remains beyond the girl's reach. She does eventually explore books, finding the likes of The Three Musketeers and Crime and Punishment on the shelves, and finding there: "once meaningless lines transformed into words that created worlds". But this also marks a crack and the beginnings of a break, alienating her from her own illiterate mother:

     Every new book and every new day increased the distance between the two. In the meantime, the mother waited for the girl to move the books out of the way between them, and the girl waited for the mother to read these books; the only time their two languages met was in an argument that accelerated their separation.
       This naïve perspective has its appeal and makes for some resonant pieces in a book that, for all its apparent languor is surprisingly dense with event and tragedy, covering varieties of love and death among much else. Yet there's such a gossamer-feel to it too that it can seem almost too insubstantial to hold onto. This is clearly an effect Shibli is almost striving for -- as, for example, her young girl, too, at one point: "dreamed that her body was floating up to the sky while she remained below" -- but makes for a read that requires more concentrated effort than its rewards might seem to justify.
       Touch is small, poetic, and moving, but even its successes feel almost too subtle.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 February 2011

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Touch: Reviews: Adania Shibli: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Arabic literature

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About the Author:

       Adania Shibli (عدنية شبلي) was born in Palestine in 1974.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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