Hisham Matar

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Hisham Matar
Hisham Matar in 2011.
Hisham Matar in 2011.
Native nameهشام مطر
Born1970 (age 47–48)
New York City, New York, United States
OccupationNovelist, essayist
PeriodPresent
GenreFiction, Memoir
Notable worksIn the Country of Men,
Anatomy of a Disappearance,
The Return
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography (2017)
Website
hishammatar.com

Hisham Matar (Arabic: هشام مطر‎) (born 1970)[1] is an American born British-Libyan writer.[2] His memoir of the search for his father, The Return, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography and the 2017 PEN America Jean Stein Book Award.[3] His debut novel In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize.[1] Matar's essays have appeared in the Asharq al-Awsat, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times and The New York Times. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was published to wide acclaim on 3 March 2011. He currently lives and writes in London.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Comparative Literature, Asia & Middle East Cultures, and English at Barnard College, Columbia University.[2]

Early life[edit]

Hisham Matar was born in New York City, in 1970, the second of two sons. His father, Jaballa Matar, who was considered a political dissident for his opinions on Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's coup in 1969, had to move the family away from Tripoli and was working for the Libyan delegation to the United Nations, in New York, at the time of Matar's birth.

The family moved back to Tripoli, Libya, in 1973, but fled the country again in 1979. Matar was nine when they moved to Cairo, where the family lived in exile,[4][5] and where Matar's father became more vocal against the Gaddafi regime.[6] Matar continued his schooling at Cairo's American school.[7][8]

In 1982, Matar's brother Ziad left for boarding school in the Swiss Alps. Though Matar desperately wanted to join his brother, he had to wait four more years until he too was sixteen. Because of the continued threats by the Libyan dictatorship against their father (as well as a threat to Ziad's safety while he was studying in Switzerland), however, he could not follow his brother to Switzerland. Both boys had to attend the schools under a false identity. Matar chose a school in England and enrolled in 1986.

"I was to pretend that my mother was Egyptian and my father American. It was thought that this would explain, to any Arabs in the school, why my Arabic was Egyptian and why my English was American. My first name was Bob. Ziad chose it because both he and I were fans of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. I was to pretend I was Christian, though not religious. I was to try to forget my name. If someone called Hisham, I was not to turn." — Hisham Matar, 2011.[9]

By the time Matar finished his studies, Ziad was a university student in London. Matar decided to pursue his studies in architecture, and later received an MA in Design Futures at Goldsmiths, University of London.

In 1990, while he was still studying in London, his father Jaballa Matar, was abducted in Cairo. He has been reported missing ever since. In 1996, the family received two letters in his father's handwriting stating that he had been kidnapped by the Egyptian secret police, handed over to the Libyan regime, and imprisoned in the notorious Abu Salim prison in the heart of Tripoli. The letters were the last sign and only thing they had heard from him or about his whereabouts. In 2010, Matar reported that he had received news that his father had been seen alive in 2002, indicating that Jaballa had survived a 1996 massacre of 1200 political prisoners by the Libyan authorities.[10]

"In March 1990, Egyptian secret service agents abducted my father from his home in Cairo. For the first two years they led us to believe that he was being held in Egypt, and told us to keep quiet or else they could not guarantee his safety. In 1992 my father managed to smuggle out a letter. A few months later my mother held it in her hand. His careful handwriting curled tightly on to itself to fit as many words as possible on the single A4 sheet of paper. Words with hardly a space between, above or beneath them. No margins, they run to the brink." —Hisham Matar, 2010.[9]

Work[edit]

Hisham Matar has written two novels, a memoir, and a children's book published in Italian, Il Libro di Dot.

Matar began writing his first novel, In the Country of Men, in early 2000. In the autumn of 2005, the publishers Penguin International signed him to a two-book deal. In the Country of Men was published in July 2006 and has been translated into 30 languages.[2]

Matar's second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, contains a character whose father is taken away by the authorities; while Matar acknowledges the relation to his own father's disappearance, he has stated that the novel is not autobiographical.

In 2016, Matar published his memoir The Return.[11]

Style[edit]

Matar has explored themes of loss and exile in his first two novels, as well as in his memoir, The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between. Matar's writing often borrows from and refers to painting, architecture, and music. Though he has said he cannot remember a time when he wasn't writing, Matar first turned to his interests in music—"And because I had no talent in music," he's said, "I became an architect, and I continued writing. Writing seemed like just the thing you keep doing—like breathing, or walking, or eating."[12]

Hisham Matar on his writing process:

"I start with very little: the more fragile, the better. The thread has to feel like it is about to snap. Sometimes I begin with a gesture or, in the case of "Naima," a feeling for a character. I had this feeling for Nuri, the protagonist and narrator. It is like that moment when you rush into the concert hall at the last minute. You find your seat as the lights go down. You have not seen the person sitting beside you, but you have a sense of them, of what they might be like, or of how the music is affecting them, the weight of their silence."[13]

Awards and Honours[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Books[edit]

  • In the Country of Men, Viking-Penguin, 2006, ISBN 0-670-91639-0[19]
  • Anatomy of a Disappearance, Viking-Penguin, 2011, ISBN 0-670-91651-X[20]
  • The Return, Viking-Penguin, 2016, ISBN 0-670-92333-8[19]
  • Il Libro di Dot, Renoir Comics, 2017, ISBN 978-8865671924

Essays and Short Stories[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b The Man Booker Prize 2006.
  2. ^ a b c "About". Hisham Matar. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  3. ^ "The Return". Hisham Matar. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  4. ^ "Hisham Matar". Penguin UK. Retrieved 16 November 2006.
  5. ^ Moss, Stephen (29 June 2006). "Hisham Matar". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 June 2006.
  6. ^ Moss, Stephen (2006-06-29). "Stephen Moss: on author Hisham Matar". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  7. ^ Leyshon, Cressida (2011-02-15). "Hisham Matar on Writing and Revolution". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  8. ^ Matar, Hisham (2017-08-28). "A Journalist Abroad Grapples With American Power". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  9. ^ a b "Hisham Matar". The Financial Times. London. 26 February 2011.
  10. ^ "Hisham Matar has just learnt that his father, who disappeared 20 years ago, might be alive", The Guardian, 16 January 2010.
  11. ^ "A memoir of Libya: Tale of a lost father and fatherland". The Economist. 2 July 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  12. ^ WestmontTV (2011-10-14), Lecture: Hisham Matar: In The Country of Men, Oct. 7, 2011, retrieved 2018-02-12
  13. ^ "The O. Henry Prize Stories". www.randomhouse.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  14. ^ "The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, by Hisham Matar". www.pulitzer.org.
  15. ^ "2017 Jean Stein Winner". PEN American Center. March 28, 2017. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  16. ^ Schaub, Michael. "L.A. Times Book Prize finalists include Zadie Smith and Rep. John Lewis; Thomas McGuane will be honored". latimes.com. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  17. ^ "2007 Arab American Book Award Winners". arabamericanmuseum.org.
  18. ^ "The Man Booker Award". The Man & Booker groups. Retrieved 10 October 2006.
  19. ^ a b "In The Country of Men". Hisham Matar. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  20. ^ "Anatomy of a Disappearance". Hisham Matar. Retrieved 2018-02-08.

External links[edit]