Touch Paperback – Mar 1 2010
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About the Author
Paula Haydar teaches Arabic at the University of Arkansas and has translated several novels from Arabic into English.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Touch" is a novella about a young Palestinian girl, which consists of five themed sections of prose poetry: colors, silence, movement, language, and the wall. Although tragedy, sadness and isolation are present throughout the narrative, there are only a couple of fleeting references to the Palestinian struggle, which seemingly have little if any impact on the life of the girl. The writing is beautiful and evocative, and this slim book is best read slowly, attentively and repeatedly for fuller enjoyment and appreciation.
The short, one-syllable title does not boast a majuscule “T.” The novel is almost as short as its title. Each section within the chapter is short, loaded. Reader, do not be deceived: though this novel (really novella) is only 72 pages, it does not read quickly. The writing is as sparse as the title. The book leaves us with a desire to find solid footing and cannot be rushed.
touch tells the story of a young girl in Palestine. She earns no name in the book. Her anonymity lends her a universal quality as she comes of age during a time of strife and struggle. The reader experiences her world through the senses, and only through them do we learn of the actions that occur in her world, the most important of which are the death of her brother and falling in love. The entire book is suffused with longing for connection, one that will not come to her (hence the final separation in the final chapter “the wall). Her senses deny her any satisfaction. For example, she wishes to hear her brother’s voice after an ambulance delivers his dead body to their home: “The little girl listened very closely to the dead brother, but silence was all there was of him, forever” (23). There is no movement in her world after his death: “The sky had not changed its silence or its shape or its position after the brother’s soul rose up to it” (43). As she tries to find her voice, she can only piece together stories from what she overhears the rest of her family saying. She catches the phrase “Sabra and Shatila,” an event that I had to learn about along with her as I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of this massacre.
Reading this novel is a raw experience and takes time and patience, though in the end the investment is worth it. Shibli’s novel earned such attention because of her ability to write the story of a young girl trying to grow up in a tumultuous and unwelcoming environment. The girl feels separated from her world, her family, her love, and her voice. This disconnect makes it challenging to sit with the novel for more than a few pages at a time, and there is no neat ending that satisfies our hopes for the girl we come to care about, even if we do not know her name.