Laksmi Pamuntjak’s Statement on the Postponement of the LiBeraturpreis 2023 Award Ceremony for Palestinian Novelist Adania Shibli
14 October 2023 PARIS – As the recipient of Germany’s LiBeraturpreis in 2015, I am not only saddened, but also deeply disturbed by the headline of the news article I read today in the New York Times about Frankfurt Book Fair’s decision to “cancel” the award ceremony to honor Adania Shibli’s novel next week “due to the war in Israel.” Shibli’s novel, Minor Detail, is about the 1949 rape and murder of a Palestinian girl by Israeli soldiers. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/13/books/frankfurt-book-fair-cancels-award-adania-shibli.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare Further down the article, however, at the very bottom, it says that LitProm, the award organizers, is still searching for a “suitable format and setting” to hold the ceremony after the fair concludes. So, it appears that the ceremony has been postponed, not canceled—a conclusion broadly reported by most news outlets in Germany.
Journalistic sensationalism aside, it is still a shame to let the war detract from the spirit of the fair, and the premise of the LiBeraturpreis, which is awarded annually to an author from Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Arab World for promoting freedom and tolerance and for speaking truth to power. Yet it seems to obey the mechanisms of politics today, especially when war and misery are involved, and that the best possible recourse for the moment is to wait until cooler heads prevail. I’m sure it is not a decision that the Frankfurt Book Fair took lightly. “Due to the war in Israel,” LitProm writes on its website, “it was decided “along with the author” to cancel the planned award ceremony at the Fair. “No one feels like celebrating at the moment," the statement adds.
Still. While I understand the historical depth of the moral grounds on which FBF bases their commitment to stand with Israel, and am also aware of the fact that the award decision process itself was deeply divided and rife with tension (The PEN writers’ association in favor of the award, the Book Fair against it, as cited by Die Presse), I still wish there is a way for a big and influential cultural organization like FBF to more fully defend its literary decisions, with the full courage of its own, non-partisan convictions, and for the award-winning book to be read and judged on its literary merits. But we do not live in an ideal world.
It would be a shame to take the valor, and the spirit for which Shibli is honored further away from the novel’s achievement, by not holding the award ceremony at a later date, for whatever reason. This, too, is a moral decision. It would send a wrong signal to the world that the largest book fair in the world favors one people over another, when both sides have equally suffered. It would hurt Palestinians, who have lost what words cannot even begin to describe, even more than they already have to bear. After all, a book fair’s allegiance ultimately lies with humanity, and Palestinians, too, have suffered greatly.
“No book becomes different, better, worse or more dangerous because the news situation changes,” says the Austrian writer and PEN Berlin spokeswoman Eva Menasse, “Either a book is worthy of an award or it is not. In my opinion, the jury’s decision for Shibli, which was made weeks ago, was a very good one. To deprive her of the prize would be fundamentally wrong, both politically and literarily.” And let us not forget that Hamas does not represent Palestine—and while the rape and murder of a young girl by soldiers could easily happen the other way around, such a heinous act has no place in the world, and should be condemned as staunchly as the courage of those who tell the story should be honored. Here is the link to other less polarizing news articles on the subject: https://ground.news/article/frankfurt-book-fair-postpones-tribute-to-palestinian-authority