An award given to the Palestinian woman at the Frankfurt Book Fair was canceled at short notice. That’s what lies behind it.
How did the event come about? The author Adana Shibli was actually supposed to receive the “LiBeraturpreis” from the Litprom association on October 20th, an award for authors from the Global South. The award ceremony was to take place at the Frankfurt Book Fair. However, after the Hamas attack on Israel, the event was canceled. Juergen Boos, director of the book fair, told the DPA that the organizer Litprom is now looking for a suitable time for the awards ceremony, which is after the book fair. However, the cancellation has now sparked a political issue.
Why is the author being criticized? Her novel “A Minor Matter” was highly praised by critics, but had long been criticized for allegedly anti-Semitic clichés. In the novel, all Israelis are anonymous rapists and killers, while the Palestinians are victims of trigger-happy occupiers, writes the TAZ. Even if the text has an empathetic tone and thrives on a change of perspective, it would reproduce stereotypes.
What is the controversial novel about? The book is set in 1949. The first part tells of the abuse and murder of a Palestinian Bedouin girl by Israeli soldiers – from the perspective of an Israeli commander. The incident was documented and uncovered by Israeli journalists decades later. In the second part, many years later, a young woman from Ramallah tries to find out more about the incident and puts herself in the perspective of the murdered girl.
Who is Adania Shibli? The Palestinian author writes novels, plays, short stories and essays. She is currently writer-in-residence at the Literaturhaus Zurich. “A Minor Matter” is her first book published in German; the English translation was nominated for the National Book Award (2020) and the International Booker Prize (2021).
What is the “LiBeraturpreis”? The prize, worth around 3,000 francs, is awarded by the Litprom association. One member of the jury, WDR journalist Ulrich Noller, resigned from the panel in protest in the summer. The rest of the jury sticks to its official reason for the award: In her novel, Adania Shibli precisely and carefully creates a linguistically rigorously composed work of art that tells of the impact of borders and what violent conflicts do to and from people.
What is the position of the Frankfurt Book Fair? Book fair director Juergen Boos told the DPA: “The winner will be selected by an independent jury. Litprom is the organizing organizer and is fully responsible for the content of the award ceremony.» The events in the Middle East contradict all the values of the Frankfurt Book Fair. “We strongly condemn Hamas’ barbaric terror against Israel,” commented Boos.
Is the book fair now adjusting its program? As a result of current events, the book fair wants to make Jewish and Israeli voices particularly visible, said director Boos. The decision was made to create additional stage moments for Israeli voices such as that of author and peace activist Lizzie Doron. However, due to travel restrictions, events also had to be canceled.