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by Adania Shibli
Translated from the Arabic by Paula Haydar
Reviewed by Akeela Gaibie-Dawood

This lyrical novella invites you into the world of an observant little girl who lives with her parents and eight sisters in current-day Palestine. She is the littlest one in the family, and one gets the sense that she is loved, but a tad neglected. Everyone is always busy, so she escapes into a private space where she observes the things that make up her everyday world: colors, silence, movement, and language.

Shibli's offering is unique. The prose is creative, poetic, and touching. Instead of a linear plot, one is treated to a set of wonderfully crafted vignettes that paint a dramatic picture with great subtlety. Although she is part of a large family, this little girl is lonely. To compound her loneliness, she contracts a severe ear infection that causes loss of hearing, which further alienates her, but also causes an explosion of noise in her ears that compels her to seek out quiet corners. Her favorite retreat is her father's car:

During the day she wandered far into the fields, and in the evening she sat in her father's car until everyone fell asleep. Then she would come inside, put the car keys on top of the fireplace, and go into her bedroom until the next sound came and pushed her out of the house.

She finds comfort in silence and also in books, and reading. She cannot keep her eyes off the constant movement of everything. She watches the smoke as her father sits smoking on the veranda, and tries to, "cut off the rising smoke with her fingers before it spread out in all directions … but she could not stop the smoke, which curled up around her fingers and continued to rise and disperse." In her silence, she notices the littlest movements, sounds and colors.

She adores her father. She often accompanies him on trips, and always seeks him out. When he's not home, she waits for him. There is one other person who pays attention to her: the neighbor. When it rains, he brings her coat to school; and everyone constantly teases her about him, saying that he loves her. He's the only person who shows her any affection; although it is sometimes totally misguided, and definitely crosses the line.

The original Arabic title Masaas is astonishingly apt, and could be translated as "touch" or "feel", "relations" or "connections", and also "violation" or "encroachment". All three meanings come into play in this quiet, contemplative book, which is a delightful and poignant read. I hope that Touch will get the attention it deserves. It is special and the little girl, who is never named, lingers long after the last page is turned.