Not to be Overlooked
By Lara Abbey and Gurnish Kaur
This column introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week, we cover a review of The Forgotten Girls by Monica Potts and Minor Detail by Adania Shibli
The Forgotten Girls by Monica Potts
Review by Lara Abbey
Monica Potts’ debut The Forgotten Girls is a powerful and personal one. Part memoir, part sociological study, it follows the friendship between two women living in rural Arkansas, exploring how national and regional history and trends shaped their childhood – and ultimately drove them apart.
The Forgotten Girls is steeped in sociology, but still manages to be human. Potts, a journalist, begins by telling us the reason for her return to the hometown she fought so desperately to escape: to gain insight into why the least educated white Americans, especially women, are dying earlier and earlier as each generation passes. Almost like fate, she reunites with her childhood best friend Darci, who was just as bright as Monica whilst they were both growing up, but whose life has taken a sharp downward turn in the years since. Throughout the book, Darci is effectively the face of the aforementioned trend, and as we learn more about her past and present through Monica’s narration, she becomes a ticking time bomb.
What we loved most about The Forgotten Girls is the ease with which it weaves such overarching societal issues with the personal. Whilst Potts has clearly carried out a mountain of research for the book, including lots of fascinating historical tidbits and data about a variety of topics – from the migration patterns in the 1800s that established Arkansas, to modern-day statistics on educational attainment and drug use in the region – she doesn’t lose sight of the most important thing: the people these issues affect. Potts’ sensitive handling of not just Darci’s story but anecdotes about other people that she grew up with – such as her friend Vanessa who got married at just sixteen, as well as the backstories of her own parents which still have ramifications for Potts – allows these issues to be treated with the complexity and nuance that they need and gives some much-needed elucidation to the facts and figures.
In the introduction to the book, Potts writes that, “words like malaise and despair hint at stories that can’t be told with data and statistics. This, I felt, was where the work of sociologists and economists and public health experts ended and my work as a journalist began,” which gets to the heart of why The Forgotten Girls is so effective. Numbers only tell half the story; sitting down and listening is what gets us closer to that other half.
Minor Detail by Adania Shibli
Review by Gurnish Kaur
Adania Shibli's Minor Detail is a literary masterpiece that delves into the complexities of history, identity and the enduring impact of violence. Published in 2019, this haunting novella has received critical acclaim for its poignant exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as its innovative narrative structure and lyrical prose. In this article, we will dissect the key themes and narrative techniques employed in Minor Detail, which have solidified Shibli's reputation as a powerful voice in contemporary literature.
Minor Detail is divided into two distinct parts, separated by a stark 1949 demarcation line. The first part is set in 1949, during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the second part unfolds in the present day. In the first part, the novel centers around the brutal killing of an Arab woman by Israeli soldiers in the Negev desert. The second part follows an unnamed female protagonist who becomes obsessed with uncovering the details of this historical event.
The story delves deeply into themes of identity and displacement, mirroring the larger Palestinian experience. Shibli masterfully juxtaposes the lives of two women, one from 1949 and one from the present, showing how their identities are shaped and warped by the historical and social contexts in which they live. The displacement and dispossession experienced by Palestinians is central to the novel's exploration of identity.
The novel emphasizes the idea that history is an ever-present force that shapes the lives of individuals, even generations after an event has occurred. The haunting “minor detail” of the murder in 1949 continues to affect the characters in the present day, serving as a reminder that unresolved conflicts and violence leave a lasting mark on the collective memory of a people.
Shibli also explores the intersection of gender and violence in Minor Detail. The first part of the novel focuses on the brutal killing of an Arab woman, highlighting the vulnerability of women in conflict zones and the deeply ingrained gender dynamics of violence and power. The second part further emphasizes this theme as the protagonist becomes obsessed with uncovering the history of the murdered woman, a fixation that ultimately reveals her own vulnerability and the violence that lurks in the background.
Adania Shibli employs a unique narrative structure that sets Minor Detail apart from more conventional novels. The two-part structure is a creative choice that allows readers to draw connections between the past and the present while underlining the idea that history is never truly behind us.
With this review, we hope to bring light to Adania Shibli, a Palestinian author whose award ceremony was “shut down” last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2023. When our hearts are heavy and we feel helpless for those who are suffering, it is critical to read and listen to the voices of those who have suffered in order to educate ourselves.