Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar (thoughts)
This is shaping up to be Netgalley week here on ye olde blog! I thought it might be nice to just catch up in a series of posts, rather than spacing them out as I usually do. After this week, it will be back to business as usual, with no more than one review copy post a week (I’ve hit on a new Netgalley policy to assure that: not requesting more than four books that release in the same month…not sure why that didn’t occur to me earlier!). The good news is, that means it will be a gushy week, since I’m quick to abandon egalleys that aren’t grabbing my interest. ;)
I’ve seen lots of praise for Libyan-born, London-based Hisham Matar, and I’ve had In the Country of Men on my wish list for quite awhile. So when I saw his newest release, Anatomy of a Disappearance, I couldn’t resist putting a request in. After reading it, I understand what the fuss is about! This is a slim novel, and it has a Belle Epoque feel to it: the whole book is tinged with a kind of decaying, melancholic grandeur that just drew me in at once. It opens with an adult Nuri reflecting on his father’s disappearance, and the bulk of the story is made up of his memories of his childhood, primarily spent in Cairo but punctuated with various trips. His father, a political exile, is wealthy and intelligent, and Nuri lives a privileged life, in the material and intellectual senses. However, emotionally things are more complicated, and all of those mixed feelings are at the heart of the book. This really does feel like a grown up son trying to understand his father from a new, adult perspective, and trying to come to terms with the decisions he made. I found Matar’s depiction of Nuri’s inner life elegant and touching; the note of wistful nostalgia is just perfect. I highly recommend this to those who enjoy fiction that’s based in characters’ inner lives.
Suggested Companion Reads
- Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (This memoir has a similar sense of nostalgia and exiled point of view, not to mention gorgeous writing.)
- When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro (Another novel driven by an exiled protagonist’s desire to solve his parents’ disappearance with an emphasis on emotional landscapes, although this one is more convoluted.)
- Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga (Another nostalgic memoir, this one about Istanbul in the waning days of the Ottoman empire.)
- Silk by Alessandro Baricco (This is a brief, stylised story that had a similar ‘feel’ for me.)