22 May | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

Frankfurt Book Fair cancels LiBeraturpreis award event ‘temporarily’ to avoid ‘uproar’

A jury announces LiBeraturpreis Award 2023 for Palestinian author Adania Shibli for her novel Minor Detail on a ‘true story’ of rape and murder of a Bedouin girl

A ceremony scheduled for the Frankfurt Book Fair, at which a Palestinian author, Adania Shibli, was to receive a prestigious award, has been cancelled in the wake of the war-like situation in the Middle East, foreign media reported.

A jury had awarded Adania Shibli the 2023 LiBeraturpreis Award for Minor Detail – her novel on the base of a true story of the rape and murder of a Bedouin girl by an Israel Army unit in 1949. The novel includes fictional story of a female journalist investigating the crime in Ramallah City decades later.

The award, which was to be given at a ceremony on 20 October, was hosted by Litprom, a not-for-profit organization funded in part by the German government, and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Its objective is to promote women’s literature from African, Asian, Arab and Latin American countries.

Ulrich Noller, a journalist, left the LiBeraturpreis jury in protest at the award, denouncing Adania Shibli’s book as portraying Israel as a murder machine. And a review in the widely read Die Tageszeitung newspaper stated that the novel used anti-Israel and anti-Semitic narratives.

This perspective was not shared by other members of the Litprom jury, nor by many other critics. The book has been nominated in the US for the National Book Awards and the International Book Awards. Its admirers include JM Coetzee and Australian writer Mireille Juchau.

“More than ever we need nuanced writing on irrefutable ways violent and genocidal histories exert their power on the present. Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail is one of the finest recent examples,” Mireille Juchau wrote. Neither Litprom nor book fair director Juergen Boos, invoked anti-Semitism as a reason for cancelling the award ceremony.

In fact, they said the ceremony would go ahead at a future time and place, yet to be fixed. “Due to the war, under which millions of people in Palestine and Israel are suffering, the organizer decided not to hold the award ceremony of the LiBeraturpreis at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Litprom is looking for a suitable format and setting for the event at a later point.”

In an open letter, protesting authors ask Frankfurt Book Fair management to give space to Palestinian writers to share their thoughts, feelings and reflections
In an open letter, protesting authors ask Frankfurt Book Fair management to give space to Palestinian writers to share their thoughts, feelings and reflections

Announcing the cancellation, Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos said in his statement that the Frankfurter Buchmesse has always been about humanity, its focus has always been on peaceful and democratic discourse. “We stand with complete solidarity on the side of Israel,” he said, adding that Israeli and Jewish voices would be given additional time on the stages.

“Against the background of the polarized situation in Germany, in which parts of the media tried to scandalize the celebration of the award, we thought it right to hold the award ceremony at a different time in a less politically charged atmosphere,” the organizers said.

The decision termed as an unjustified and counterproductive abridgement of free speech. More than 1,000 literary figures globally, including Irish novelist Colm Toibin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hisham Matar, Man Booker Prize finalist Rachel Kushner and Women’s Prize winner Kamila Shamsie, pointed out this argument.

In an open letter to the Frankfurt Book Fair, they make the important point that this is the very time Palestinian writers should be given space to share their thoughts, feelings and reflections. Doing so would seem to be consistent with Jurgen Boos’ assertion that the book fair has always been focused on peaceful and democratic discourse.

“Of course, there are always security considerations to be taken into account, especially at a time of such heightened emotions. But these, too, have not been invoked by organizers as a reason for the cancellation. I believe this cancellation was an ethically indefensible decision – sending exactly the wrong signals at exactly the wrong time,” Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow at The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism, wrote in his latest article.