Minor Detail, Major Implications — with Selma Dabbagh, Judith Gurewich and Katharine Halls

Minor Detail, Major Implications — with Selma Dabbagh, Judith Gurewich and Katharine Halls
An exhibitor poses with the German edition of Adania Shibli’s “Minor Detail” at the Frankfurt Book Fair. (Photo by Kiril Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images.)

The Frankfurt Book Fair is the world’s largest trade fair for books, though it rarely makes headlines outside of publishing trade gazettes. This year was different. Palestinian author Adania Shibli had been announced as the winner of Litprom’s 2023 LiBeraturpreis literature award for her 2020 novel “Minor Detail.” But after the Oct. 7 attacks, Litprom, which is funded in part by the German government, decided to cancel the award ceremony. 

“Given the context of what was happening to Palestinians at the time, it felt really cruel that there couldn’t even be, on some level, something to celebrate,” British-Palestinian author Salma Dabbagh tells New Lines magazine’s Lydia Wilson. “But to say one is shocked almost feels naive because there’s a history here.”

Dabbagh cites the example of Caryl Churchill, a playwright who had been due to receive the lifetime achievement award at the 2022 European Drama awards in Stuttgart. Shortly after the announcement, the award was rescinded on the basis of her support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Since the attacks, Palestinians and others with Middle Eastern backgrounds have been treated with suspicion across the world, but that demonization has been particularly pronounced in Germany. Katharine Halls, a British Arabic-English translator who represents a number of Germany- and Berlin-based authors, says Shibli is far from the only author to feel the chilling effects.

“To say one is shocked almost feels naive.”

“Book launches, conferences, prize-giving ceremonies — they’re seeing them canceled,” she says. “Meanwhile, there is a very, very real threat of far-right activism and indeed violence, which seems to be going unchecked.”

Halls had been invited by Litprom to host a panel on Arabic literature at the Frankfurt Fair but dropped out after learning of their decision to cancel Shibli’s ceremony. Publisher Judith Gurewich had also been asked to speak, but though she too was appalled by the decision, she says the decision to drop out never crossed her mind. 

“I felt that it was very important to somehow take a stand, as a Jewish publisher in Germany,” she says.  “You have to be a little bit thoughtful about what you’re doing, when you don’t even acknowledge your own history and what you’ve done with this history.”

Produced Joshua Martin

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