Book Review: Hisham Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance

Really, I think, a lovely jacket.

From my review in Al Masry Al Youm:

Hisham Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance has an air of tea-service fragility. The Libyan-British author’s second novel – following his 2006 Booker-shortlisted In the Country of Men – reads as though, if one were to breathe on it too hard, the whole thing might crack.

This fragility is not because the novel is emotive or confessional. The book does have echoes of the author’s well-known life: The protagonist, like Matar, has a dissident father who was kidnapped and dragged across borders to prison. The protagonist’s father was kidnapped in Switzerland, while Matar’s father was abducted by Mubarak’s secret police and transferred to Libyan authorities. But Anatomy of a Disappearance is not a representation of the author’s life, and there is little raw emotion in it.

Each of the novel’s highly charged story lines receive careful shaping. The novel is built around the disappearance of the narrator’s father, who was snatched away from young Nuri when he was just fourteen. From here, readers flash back to the mysterious death of Nuri’s mother to her replacement with a stepmother, and to the shame-filled love triangle that develops between Nuri, his father and his stepmother. This is the sort of story that could easily be told at a scream. But the book’s language mutes its material. Each sentence in Anatomy of a Disappearance is sculpted. Each feels as though it has been designed with a watchmaker’s care and then exactingly and gingerly set into place. Instead of rawness of emotion, the novel gives readers an intensely visual experience, with bright images standing out against a near-absence.

Keep reading.

Also read: Zunguzungu’s three-part review of Matar’s In the Country of Men.