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Anatomy of a Disappearance: A Novel Hardcover – August 23, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for Anatomy of a Disappearance 

Chicago Tribune • The Daily Beast • The Independent • The Guardian • The Telegraph • The Toronto Sun • Irish Times

“For Western readers, what often seemed lacking [in the coverage of the Arab Spring] was an authentic interpreter and witness, someone who could speak across cultures and make us feel the abundant miseries that fueled the revolt.  No one plays this role, in my view, as powerfully, as Hisham Matar…Matar writes in English, in extraordinarily powerful and densely evocative prose: he seems uniquely poised to play the role of literary ambassador between two worlds…”--The New York Times

“Mesmerizing. . . . The recent events that have lent topicality to this elegiac novel might easily have swamped a lesser work. Its strength rests in Matar's decision to focus on emotional rather than material details, proving that in art, at least, the personal can trump the political.”—Houston Chronicle

“A haunting novel, exquisitely written and psychologically rich.”—Washington Post

 “[A] potent new novel . . . which moves among eerily silent interiors in London, Cairo, and Geneva to evoke the emotional vacuum that follows [a] father’s abduction.”--Vogue

“Outstanding . . . with its stylistic echoes of Nabokov.”—The Irish Times
“Elegiac . . . [Hisham Matar] writes of a son’s longing for his lost father with heartbreaking acuity.”—Newsday

“A son without closure writes sparingly and brilliantly about what it is to suffer loss without end.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Eloquent . . . one of the most moving works based on a boy’s view of the world.”

“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.”—Roddy Doyle
“Sculpted in a prose of clutter-free, classical precision . . . a pure demonstration of the strange alchemy of fiction.”—The Independent (U.K.)
“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 Times Literary Supplement
“Haunting in every sense . . . An absorbing novel that finds its eloquence in what is left unsaid.”—The Sunday Times (London)
“Submerged grief gives this fine novel the mythic inexorability of Greek tragedy.”—The Economist
“A fable of loss, and an often troubling meditation on fathers and sons . . . Hisham Matar is writing from the heart.”—The Guardian (London)

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; 1 edition (August 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385340443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385340441
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,648,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I first learned about this book from an interview with the author on NPR and entered to win a copy from the good reads program. I found that author did a wonderful job creating a mood of ambivailance and uncertainty. Throughout the novel the narrator is enmeshed in uncertainty and an unspoken suspicion of truth hiding just under the surface. I think the narrative quality is very subtle, but adds an interesting quality to the story. Some of the loose ends are tired up at the end, but the disappearance is not resolved much like real life.

If you are seeking a profound revelation, this is not the book for you. If you are interested in the development of a character who develops in the aftermath of a political kidnapping this is a good choice. The book allows us to reflect on how we see each other and the relationships we form. It also makes us question how much we truly know ourselves and the others in our lives.
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Format: Hardcover
When I read In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar earlier this year, I was overwhelmed: it promptly earned a place on my list of best books read this year thanks to the author's elegant prose and fascinating approach to its theme of a child coming to realize the complexities of the world he inhabits. So I had great hopes and expectations for Matar's second novel.

Alas, while the prose is still beautiful and I still admired the elegiac tone, this novel draws to a surprising degree on many of the same plot elements as Matar's debut. Again, we meet a young boy with an enigmatic, politically engaged father and the novel is set against the backdrop of troubles in the Arab world (although this time not always IN the Arab world.) In this case, the father seems to be a political exile (from Iraq, possibly? there is a reference to a murdered king) living partly in Switzerland and partly in Cairo. When Nuri's mother dies (another repetition: the mother figure has weaknesses that make her not a strong force in her son's life), it is through Nuri that his father meets the much-younger Mona, with whom the 12-year-old Nuri becomes obsessed. Two years later, it is at her side that he tries to understand what has happened to his father -- why he has been abducted in the middle of the night from the apartment of a woman no one has ever heard of before.

I have two entirely separate gripes with this novel that made me give it 3.5 stars. The first, obviously, is how uncannily similar these novels are. With five years separating their publication, couldn't Matar have mined some fresh material for a second book, especially when both are so short?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We've survived the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The media reports no shocking new acts of terror. We've waved flags, declared both the victims of the attack and those victimized by their response to the catastrophe heros. We've stood by while those who lost so much in the wake of 9/11 shed tears. We've survived this public ritual, coming away feeling, well, better, I suppose, in some sort of communal way.

The victims of 9/11 are lucky that way. Their loss is marked. We stopped the world for a brief time to give them the solace of our joint recognition of their sorrow. All do not share their good fortune.

I was reminded of this reading a new book by Hisham Matar, Anatomy of a Disappearance, the story of a 14-year-old boy whose father was present in a shared world of hopes and dreams, and then, in an instant, was forever absence. There was no ceremony for this disappearance. Just silent sorrow expected to be borne without a lot of fuss and ado.

"The telephone continued to ring incessantly," Matar writes. The boy's father was kidnapped you see, swept away from the bed he shared with a woman by abductors suspected of targeting him because he was an outspoken critic of the third-world tyrant who ruled his country. "Then after a few days it grew quiet. Relatives and neighbors who might have filled the chairs in the hall if Father had died were silent in the face of his disappearance.... A great emptiness began to fill the place of my father. It became unbearable to hear his name."

That is what silent, unshared, unrecognized, uncelebrated grief looks like: It is a scar borne quietly, a scream no one hears, a rite of passage unaccompanied by the comforting ritual of a funeral.
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Format: Paperback
There are actually two disappearances in this novel: the first is the death of the 10-year old Nuri's mother, which is never spoken about by Kamal, his father. Kamal is a uncomfortable and uncommunicative in his son's presence: Nuri does not even know what his work is - only that he was once in the Egyptian government, before the monarchy was overthrown by the military in 1952 and that he was now a dissident. When the two of them go on a holiday in Alexandria, they meet Mona, an English woman aged 26, with whom both the boy (older than his then 12 years) and his 41-year old father fall in love. Kamal married her, and for the next two years Nuri is in torment. He is sent to a boarding school in England. Then, when they are all on holiday in Switzerland, Kamal disappears, kidnapped by persons unknown. Mona and Nuri settle in England. The rest of the novel describes the complexities of Nuri's emotions and relationships. Aged 24 he revisits the town from which his father has disappeared. There some mysteries about his father are cleared up, and he learns more when he returns to London.

Nuri's story is told in the first person singular; he only describes his thoughts and actions but never really explains them. Perhaps he is too damaged to be able to do so. But I could not warm to him or empathize with him. Some of his actions are remarkably callous, others - more understandably - indecisive, and the last, withholding what he now knows, leaves a painful impression on me. I thought Matar's previous book, "In the Country of Men", which also deals in part with a father-son relationship in a dangerous political climate in the Middle East, very much better. (See my review.)
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