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Anatomy of a Disappearance
Cover of Anatomy of a Disappearance
Anatomy of a Disappearance
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
This mesmerizing literary novel is written with all the emotional precision and intimacy that have won Hisham Matar tremendous international recognition. In a voice that is delicately wrought and beautifully tender, he asks: When a loved one disappears, how does that absence shape the lives of those who are left?
 
“A haunting novel, exquisitely written and psychologically rich.”—The Washington Post
 
Nuri is a young boy when his mother dies. It seems that nothing will fill the emptiness her death leaves behind in the Cairo apartment he shares with his father—until they meet Mona, sitting in her yellow swimsuit by the pool of the Magda Marina hotel. As soon as Nuri sees Mona, the rest of the world vanishes. But it is Nuri’s father with whom Mona falls in love and whom she eventually marries. Their happiness consumes Nuri to the point where he wishes his father would disappear. Nuri will, however, soon regret what he’s wished for. When his father, a dissident in exile from his homeland, is abducted under mysterious circumstances, the world that Nuri and his stepmother share is shattered. And soon they begin to realize how little they knew about the man they both loved.
 
“At once a probing mystery of a father’s disappearance and a vivid coming-of-age story . . . This novel is compulsively readable.”—The Plain Dealer
 
“Studded with little jewels of perception, deft metaphors and details that illuminate character or set a scene.”—The New York Times
 
“One of the most moving works based on a boy’s view of the world.”—Newsweek
 
“Elegiac . . . [Hisham Matar] writes of a son’s longing for a lost father with heartbreaking acuity.”—Newsday
 
Don’t miss the conversation between Hisham Matar and Hari Kunzru at the back of the book. 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE

Chicago Tribune • The Daily Beast • The Independent • The Guardian • The Daily Telegraph • Toronto Sun • The Irish Times
 
Look for special features inside. Join the Circle for author chats and more.
BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men.
This mesmerizing literary novel is written with all the emotional precision and intimacy that have won Hisham Matar tremendous international recognition. In a voice that is delicately wrought and beautifully tender, he asks: When a loved one disappears, how does that absence shape the lives of those who are left?
 
“A haunting novel, exquisitely written and psychologically rich.”—The Washington Post
 
Nuri is a young boy when his mother dies. It seems that nothing will fill the emptiness her death leaves behind in the Cairo apartment he shares with his father—until they meet Mona, sitting in her yellow swimsuit by the pool of the Magda Marina hotel. As soon as Nuri sees Mona, the rest of the world vanishes. But it is Nuri’s father with whom Mona falls in love and whom she eventually marries. Their happiness consumes Nuri to the point where he wishes his father would disappear. Nuri will, however, soon regret what he’s wished for. When his father, a dissident in exile from his homeland, is abducted under mysterious circumstances, the world that Nuri and his stepmother share is shattered. And soon they begin to realize how little they knew about the man they both loved.
 
“At once a probing mystery of a father’s disappearance and a vivid coming-of-age story . . . This novel is compulsively readable.”—The Plain Dealer
 
“Studded with little jewels of perception, deft metaphors and details that illuminate character or set a scene.”—The New York Times
 
“One of the most moving works based on a boy’s view of the world.”—Newsweek
 
“Elegiac . . . [Hisham Matar] writes of a son’s longing for a lost father with heartbreaking acuity.”—Newsday
 
Don’t miss the conversation between Hisham Matar and Hari Kunzru at the back of the book. 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE

Chicago Tribune • The Daily Beast • The Independent • The Guardian • The Daily Telegraph • Toronto Sun • The Irish Times
 
Look for special features inside. Join the Circle for author chats and more.
BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1 Chapter 1

    There are times when my father's absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest. Other times I can barely recall the exact features of his face and must bring out the photographs I keep in an old envelope in the drawer of my bedside table. There has not been a day since his sudden and mysterious vanishing that I have not been searching for him, looking in the most unlikely places. Everything and everyone, existence itself, has become an evocation, a possibility for resemblance. Perhaps this is what is meant by that brief and now almost archaic word: elegy.

    I do not see him in the mirror but feel him adjusting, as if he were twisting within a shirt that nearly fits. My father has always been intimately mysterious even when he was present. I can almost imagine how it might have been coming to him as an equal, as a friend, but not quite.

    ×××

    My father disappeared in 1972, at the beginning of my school Christmas holiday, when I was fourteen. Mona and I were staying at the Montreux Palace, taking breakfast— I with my large glass of bright orange juice, and she with her steaming black tea—on the terrace overlooking the steel-blue surface of Lake Geneva, at the other end of which, beyond the hills and the bending waters, lay the now vacant city of Geneva. I was watching the silent paragliders hover above the still lake, and she was paging through La Tribune de Genève, when suddenly her hand rose to her mouth and trembled.

    A few minutes later we were aboard a train, hardly speaking, passing the newspaper back and forth.

    We collected from the police station the few belongings that were left on the bedside table. When I unsealed the small plastic bag, along with the tobacco and the lighter flint, I smelled him. That same watch is now wrapped round my wrist, and even today, after all these years, when I press the underside of the leather strap against my nostrils I can detect a whiff of him.

    ×××

    I wonder now how different my story would have been were Mona's hands unbeautiful, her fingertips coarse.

    I still, all of these years later, hear the same childish persistence, "I saw her first," which bounced like a devil on my tongue whenever I caught one of Father's claiming gestures: his fingers sinking into her hair, his hand landing on her skirted thigh with the absentmindedness of a man touching his earlobe in mid-sentence. He had taken to the Western habit of holding hands, kissing, embracing in public. But he could not fool me; like a bad actor, he seemed unsure of his steps. Whenever he would catch me watching him, he would look away and I swear I could see color in his cheeks. A dark tenderness rises in me now as I think how hard he had tried; how I yearn still for an easy sympathy with my father. Our relationship lacked what I have always believed possible, given time and perhaps after I had become a man, after he had seen me become a father: a kind of emotional eloquence and ease. But now the distances that had then governed our interactions and cut a quiet gap between us continue to shape him in my thoughts.

About the Author-
  • Hisham Matar was born in New York City to Libyan parents and spent his childhood first in Tripoli and then in Cairo. His first novel, In the Country of Men, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It won six international literary awards, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book award for Europe and South Asia, the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and the inaugural Arab American Book Award. It has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Matar lives in London and serves as an associate professor at Barnard College in New York City.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 23, 2011
    Matar offers a searing vision of familial rupture and disintegration in his trenchant follow-up to In the Country of Men. Nuri el-Alfi is the son of Kamal Pasha el-Alfi, a powerful man (and exile from an unnamed Arab country that bears a striking resemblance to Matar's native Libya) living in Cairo and involved in "secret work." Two rough years after Nuri's mother dies, father and son meet Mona, a half-English, half-Arab woman, who, at 26 is 14 years older than Nuri and 15 years younger than Kamal. Nuri loves Mona madly, but of course she loves his father, and the two quickly marry and shuttle Nuri off to an English boarding school, where he pines for Mona and tries desperately to comprehend his father's personal history. Such understanding is made all the more impossible and necessary when, one wintry day, Kamal is abducted from the Geneva apartment of a woman neither Mona nor Nuri know. At once tough and tender, shaped by the sorrows of memory, Nuri's story is searching, acquiring power in its graceful acceptance of the impossibility of certainty. Although some of the novel's revelations seem more expedient than illuminating, the work as a whole is an elegant and smart evocation of the complexities of filial love.

  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2011

    A boy grows into a man in the suffocating vacuum of his father's abrupt and unresolved vanishing.

    Though his books might seem to echo current events, it is the weight of personal history that drives the novels of Libyan author Matar (In the Country of Men, 2007). In his Booker-shortlisted debut novel, he deftly fictionalized his own experience—the author's dissident father Jaballa Matar was ruthlessly kidnapped by Egyptian secret-service agents in 1990 and imprisoned in a Libyan prison at the order of Muammar Gaddafi. In his latest, Matar portrays an even more acute sense of loss by contrasting two parental losses with the complicated relationship between a boy and his young stepmother. The narrator, Nuri Pasha, gracefully relates his story from the age of 11 to the present day. His mother, a wisp of a woman, dies early, driving Nuri and his father, an exiled political activist, together. "After she passed away he and I came to resemble two flat-sharing bachelors kept together by circumstance or obligation," Nuri muses. Their world is thrown into upheaval when Nuri's father meets 24-year-old Mona, a stunning Arab woman of English descent. Closer in age to Nuri than less-than-fatherly Kamal, Mona becomes an obsession for both father and son, adding to Kamal's confusing, furtive behavior. One winter as Nuri and Mona spend time together in Montreux, they receive word that Kamal has been abducted from the bedside of a woman in Geneva. A lesser writer might suppose that Nuri and Mona would find comfort in their communal untethering, but Matar cautiously and evocatively explores the unique and terrifying world in which Nuri finds himself. "I felt guilty, too, as I continue to feel today, at having lost him, at not knowing how to find him or take his place. Every day I let my father down."

    A son without closure writes sparingly and brilliantly about what it is to suffer loss without end.

     

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    March 15, 2011

    Matar's debut novel, In the Country of Men, won six international prizes, including the Commonwealth Writer's Prize (Europe and South Asia) for Best First Novel and the inaugural Arab American Book Award. It was also a finalist for the Man Booker, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Guardian First Book Award. Oh, and I found it searing, evocative, and original. Here is Matar's second work, featuring an 11-year-old born in exile after his parents flee revolutionary upheaval. Following his mother's death, Nuri and his father become entranced with half-English, half-Arab Mona when they spy her in a yellow bathing suit by the hotel swimming pool. Obviously, there will be complications, even tragedy. First serial rights were sold to The New Yorker. Get it.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    August 1, 2011
    The author of In the Country of Men (2007) limns a boy's complex relationship with his father. Nuri El-Alfi is 10 when his mother dies, leaving him in the care of his remote father, Kamal, a former minister in an unnamed Arab country's regime who is now a dissident living in exile in Cairo. It is Nuri who first catches sight of Mona, a beautiful young woman who captivates him when he is 12. Kamal romances and then marries Mona, inciting deep jealousy in Nuri, who is sent off to boarding school soon after. Two years later, Nuri travels to Geneva to meet Mona and his father for a holiday. Mona arrives first, but his father never shows up, and the pair discovers in the newspaper that Kamal has been abducted from a Swiss woman's apartment. Over the next decade, Nuri is left to patch together the truth about his father's political and amorous activities, leading him to a startling revelation. A subtle and graceful character study.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

  • Roddy Doyle "A searing vision of familial rupture and disintegration. . . . At once tough and tender, shaped by the sorrows of memory, Nuri's story is searching, acquiring power in its graceful acceptance of the impossibility of certainty. . . . An elegant and smart evocation of the complexities of filial love."--«Publishers Weekly, starred review

    "Two things stood out as I read Anatomy of a Disappearance. First, there was the quiet power of the language, and the author's control of it. Second, there was Hisham Matar's ability to tell a story that from the first sentence seems inevitable, yet is full of surprises. I was moved and very impressed."

  • The Independent (U.K.) "Sculpted in a prose of clutter-free, classical precision . . . a pure demonstration of the strange alchemy of fiction."
  • The Times Literary Supplement "A tenderly written novel with Shakespearean themes, it can be read as a deeply personal account of the losses that tyranny and exile produce."
  • The Sunday Times (London) "Haunting in every sense . . . An absorbing novel that finds its eloquence in what is left unsaid."
  • The Economist "Submerged grief gives this fine novel the mythic inexorability of Greek tragedy."
  • The Guardian (London)

    "A fable of loss, and an often troubling meditation on fathers and sons . . . Hisham Matar is writing from the heart."
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