Hisham Matar

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Hisham Matar
Hisham Matar.jpg
Hisham Matar in 2011.
Native name هشام مطر
Born 1970 (age 46–47)
New York City, New York, United States
Occupation Novelist, poet, essayist
Period 2004–present
Genre Fiction, Memoir
Notable works In the Country of Men,
Anatomy of a Disappearance,
The Return
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography (2017)

Hisham Matar (Arabic: هشام مطر‎‎) (born 1970)[1] is a Libyan/American[2] writer. 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. 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 on 3 March 2011. He currently lives and writes in London.


Hisham Matar was born in New York City. He spent his early childhood in America with his Libyan parents while his father, Jaballa Matar, was working for the Libyan delegation to the United Nations. When he was three years old, his family went back to Tripoli, Libya, where he spent the next six years of his life. Due to political persecutions by the Gaddafi regime, in 1979 his father was accused of being a reactionary to the Libyan revolutionary regime and was forced to flee the country with his family. They lived in exile in Egypt where Hisham and his brother completed their schooling in Cairo.[3][4] In 1986 Matar moved to London where he continued his studies and received a degree in architecture. Also in London he completed the MA in Design Futures at Goldsmiths, University of London.

In 1990, while Matar was in London, his father Jaballa, a political dissident, was kidnapped in Cairo. He has been reported missing ever since. However, 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. Since that date, there has been little information about Jaballa Matar's whereabouts. In 2010 Hisham 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.[5]

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.[6]

Literary career[edit]

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 22 languages.

In 2008 Matar became the Mary Amelia Cummins Harvey Visiting Fellow Commoner at Girton College at the University of Cambridge. He is currently a writer-in-residence for the charity First Story.

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.[7]

Awards and recognition[edit]

In the Country of Men received accolades from writers including J. M. Coetzee, Anne Michaels and Nadeem Aslam.[8] It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize[9] and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2006.[10] The book won the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book award for Europe and South Asia, the 2007 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, the 2007 Premio Gregor von Rezzori for foreign fiction translated into Italian, the Italian Premio Internazionale Flaiano (Sezione Letteratura) and the inaugural Arab American Book Award. In the Country of Men has been translated into 28 languages. Matar's short story, "Naima", was included in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories collection of short stories for 2012. His memoir of the search for his missing father, The Return, won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 2017,[11] the Folio Prize in 2017,[12] and the PEN America Jean Stein Book Award in 2017.[13]



Essays and reporting[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b http://themanbookerprize.com/fiction/2006
  2. ^ http://www.pulitzer.org/winners/hisham-matar
  3. ^ "Hisham Matar". Penguin UK. Retrieved 2006-11-16. 
  4. ^ Moss, Stephen (29 June 2006). "Hisham Matar". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
  5. ^ Hisham Matar has just learnt that his father, who disappeared 20 years ago, might be alive The Guardian 16 January 2010
  6. ^ "Hisham Matar". The Guardian. London. 2010-01-16. 
  7. ^ "A memoir of Libya: Tale of a lost father and fatherland". The Economist. 2 July 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2016. 
  8. ^ Page, Benedicte (2006-09-24). "In the Country of Men". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2006-09-24. 
  9. ^ "The Man Booker Award". The Man & Booker groups. Retrieved 2006-10-10. 
  10. ^ "The Guardian First Book Award". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-11-10. 
  11. ^ "Biography or Autobiography". Retrieved 11 April 2017. 
  12. ^ Sana Goyal (May 25, 2017). "Hisham Matar’s memoir wins this year’s Rathbones Folio Prize". Live Mint. Retrieved May 25, 2017. 
  13. ^ "2017 PEN/JEAN STEIN BOOK AWARD - PEN America". PEN America. 2017-03-27. Retrieved 2017-08-02. 

External links[edit]