A Review of Adania Shibli’s Touch
A little girl stands in the shade of a water tank and presses her hand on its rusted skin. Enchanted by the shimmering dust this leaves on her palm, she slides her other hand across the tank and is surprised by the pain of metal splinters. This is how Adania Shibli begins her novella, Touch, which imparts a couple of theories about childhood. The first is that we depend on bodily senses to learn about the world; the second is that the conclusions we draw about the world are achingly flawed.
The childhood explored in Touch belongs to a nameless Palestinian girl, whose story is told in thirty-three brief episodes. Palestine’s turmoil lies on the periphery of the tale. The girl first hears about the Sabra and Shatila massacre in the muffled voices of her parents, who are bickering in the room next door. To her, it remains one of those unreadable enigmas that darken childhood, when one’s exclusion from the grave matters that concern adults is palpable enough to cause loneliness. The confusion and isolation of girlhood is the tragic sentiment that underlies Shibli’s book.