I have seen some great reviews of this novel – but feel I can’t really do it justice. How can I put across the absolute pathos and beauty of this novel?
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 (Roddy Doyle )
A tenderly written novel with Shakespearean themes, it can be read as a deeply personal account of the losses that tyranny and exile produce (TLS
The story centres on Nuri a 12 year old boy as the novel opens –who is the son of a man living in exile in Cairo. After his mother’s sudden death Nuri’s father takes them on holiday to a resort in Alexandria – it is here they meet the beautiful Mona. Both boy and father are captivated by her. When his father marries Mona – Nuri is consumed with a mixture of complex feelings – one being envy. His father sends him to boarding school in England from where he continues to think about Mona and writes to her frequently.
Two years later there is another holiday – this time to Switzerland – a country his father travels to frequently. It is here that Nuri’s father suddenly disappears – is kidnapped apparently from the bed of another woman. Nuri and Mona are faced with the possibility that they didn’t fully know the man they love. His father had once worked for the executed King of their country – is an opponent of the regime that runs the country now. The country itself is never named in this novel – but it is clear it is Libya. Mona is convinced it is this regime that is responsible for her husband’s disappearance.
The disappearance of his father shapes the years that follow for Nuri – back at school his father’s disappearance is a secret he hugs to himself – not able to bring himself to talk about it even to his closest friend, Alexei. His relationship with Mona remains complex, but changes as the years pass.
“I began to feel I had been neglecting my father. I saw him waiting in a windowless room. I obsessed about what I could do to find him. I dreamed of him often.”
There is an added poignancy to this novel for me because I know that there is an autobiographical slant to it. Hisham Matar is the son of a political dissident who was opposed to the Gaddafi regime – the family lived in exile in Cairo and it was from here that Matar’s father was abducted in 1990. The family received news in 1996 that he was alive, and then nothing for many years. In 2010 Matar heard that someone had seen his father alive in 2002 in a Libyan jail.
The prose of this novel is beautifully spare, the whole is a haunting story of loss and memory, and I absolutely loved it.