In July 2021, six billboards appeared in Northwest London emblazoned with quotes from two novels from Palestinian authors, Heba Hayek’s Sambac Beneath Unlikely Skies (2021) and Yara Hawari’s The Stone House (2021). Although novels are usually categorised as ‘fictional works’, by placing the billboards across Northwest London—an area with a long tradition of Palestinian and Arab diaspora community—the initiators wanted to emphasise that these works of fiction represent someone’s reality. The billboards were part of a walking exhibition called #TheDistantHere, which aimed to evoke a dialogue. But what kind of dialogue? In the spirit of Michael Burawoy’s expansion of the concepts of “dialogue and critical sociology” (1998) and Mieke Bal’s notion of “cultural analysis” (2002) as one which can allow cultural objects to enrich both interpretation and theory, this essay seeks to tease out whether the concept of “poetry of witness” (Forché, 1993) could be extended to novels and what are the implications of doing so in relation to the concept of ‘witnessing’?


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