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Anatomy of a Disappearance [Hardcover]

Hisham Matar
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Mar 2011

Nuri is a young boy when his mother dies. It seems that nothing will fill the emptiness that her strange death leaves behind in the Cairo apartment he shares with his father.

Until Mona.

When Nuri first sees Mona, sitting in her bright yellow swimsuit by the pool of the Magda Marina holiday resort, the rest of the world vanishes. But it is Nuri's father with whom Mona falls in love and who she will eventually marry. And their happiness consumes Nuri to the point where he longs to get his father out of the way. However, Nuri will soon regret what he wished for. And, as he and his stepmother's world is shattered by events beyond their control, they both begin to realise how little they really knew about the man they loved.

In a voice that is delicately wrought and beautifully tender, Hisham Matar asks, in his extraordinary new novel, when a loved one disappears how does their absence shape the lives of those who are left?

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (3 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067091651X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670916511
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 22.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 524,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Haunting in every sense, Anatomy of a Disappearance is an absorbing novel that finds its eloquence in what is left unsaid and its most vivid imagery in what has been lost, possibly for ever (Sunday Times )

The ability of fiction to convey injustice with a unique emotional power means that novels can change history . . . Mr Matar is the writer who has done most to convey the reality of Col Gaddafi's Libya (Gideon Rachman Financial Times )

This beautiful, subtle novel, like the lives of its characters, repays many readings (Helen Dunmore The Times )

Sensually written, there is an extravagant feel even to the simplest sentence . . . From start to finish that exquisitely profound quality of uncertainty is the most wrenching aspect of all

(Telegraph )

A curiously engaging story that takes one into a world that seems simultaneously remote and familiar as something in a dream. Each time I had to put it down I couldn't wait to get back to it

(Michael Frayn )

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 )

Probably represents the most important artistic response yet to the trauma of Arab dictatorship . . . Matar is beginning to do for the Arab experience what the likes of Salman Rushdie have done for the sub-continent (Sathnam Sanghera The Times )

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 )

It has a dreamlike quality, in spite of Matar's cool and lapidary prose. It is a fable of loss, and an often troubling meditation on fathers and sons . . . Hisham Matar is writing from the heart

(Observer )

Submerged grief gives this fine novel the mythic inexorability of Greek tragedy (Economist )

A poignant exploration of the half-state between grief and hope (New Statesman )

A tightly coiled, masterfully controlled narrative . . . A testament to the terrible human cost of unjust government in the Arab world (Independent on Sunday )

The novel is all the more powerful for the restraint with which the author writes of a son's loss and longing for his father. Fascinating, too, in its perspective on the changing face of the Arab world (Daily Mail )

Beautifully crafted . . . as much about how a person vanishes as it is how the memory of a vanished person is preserved and transformed (Financial Times )

Sculpted in a prose of clutter-free, classical precision . . . Marked by a brooding and rather sinister sensuality . . . Matar suffuses Nuri's education in love and loss with an erotic frisson and fragile grace that lend the book an inner radiance (Boyd Tonkin Independent )

About the Author

Hisham Matar was born in New York City to Libyan parents and spent his childhood first in Tripoli and then in Cairo. His first novel, In the Country of Men, was published in 2006 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It has been translated into twenty-eight languages. He lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Mothers 13 May 2011
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 1000 REVIEWER
If a book had an emotion then I think the one word that you could conjure up when finishing `Anatomy of a Disappearance' is longing. As we follow the story of Nuri, who is on holiday in Alexandria with his father, who has recently been bereaved by the death of his mother. Here he befriends a foreign woman (who is set alight from the first scene by her bright yellow swimsuit) Mona, a young woman who he soon becomes rather obsessed with before learning that his father has very similar feelings. Of course Nuri only being a boy at the time knows this can lead nowhere yet that doesn't stop him from being romantic about the whole situation, for his father though it is a different matter. Things are of course going to get complicated and initial problems between father and son since Nuri's mothers death start to become darker, even bitter.

If this wasn't enough to keep a story brimming with tension Matar adds several more strands which simmer in the background. One of the strands is that of Nuri's fathers place in the past history of Libya where he was the right hand man to a King who was subsequently assassinated leaving him forced to flee to France. This opens a big background underlying subplot about the state the family is in, how they have made the money they have and where they have ended up. There are also two slight mysteries. Nuri's mothers death leaves some open ended questions and there is also the fact that when the book initially opens, before this fateful holiday, Nuri has told us somewhere in the future sat by Lake Geneva with Mona that his father has strangely disappeared. All these things bubble away in the background as you read on which is incredibly satisfying to have unfolding in the pages in your hands.

It also to me showed what a stunning writer Matar is.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Loss and love with a Libyan backdrop 22 Mar 2011
By J. Coulton VINE VOICE
Hisham Matar's background has a particular resonance at the moment, with the momentous and violent events taking place in Libya. His father was a political dissident opposed the Gaddafi regime, and the family were forced to flee their home and went to live in Egypt. It was from Cairo that his father was abducted, never to be seen again by Matar, although he was reported to be imprisoned in a notorious Libyan jail.

And his latest novel `Anatomy of a Disappearance' is a moving piece of writing that draws heavily on this personal experience of loss. It is a relatively short book, at less than 250 pages, but is densely packed with emotion, desire, and desperation. It is beautifully written as it explores the relationship between Nuri, a young boy, his father Kamal, and new girlfriend Mona. It is fourteen year old Nuri who spots Mona first, by a hotel pool whilst on holiday, and he gallantly and confidently helps her to take a thorn out of her foot. She is much younger than Kamal, but nevertheless becomes his partner, but Nuri cannot repress the strong feelings that he had and continues to have for her, with inevitable consequences.

His wealthy and privileged upbringing, despite the loss of his beloved mother, is the backdrop to this tale, played out surrounded by other strong female characters like his long devoted servant Naima. He is sent away to an English boarding school at Mona's insistence, and from here has to suffer the wrench of his father's disappearance. Kamal's political views and actions are not clearly spelt out, but the inference about them leading to his loss of liberty is made clear.

Matar writes in a sensitive and moving way, and tells a rich and multi layered story which is simple, but with many complexities beneath its obvious themes. It deserves to be read for its considerable merits, but also as a stark reminder of the human loss behind such brutal dictatorships.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
When a young boy loses his mother, one consequence is that he finds himself having to relate to his father in a new way, perhaps with a new intensity, which may or may not be an improvement on the older, more easy-going but semi-detached relationship. In Anatomy of a Disappearance young Nuri finds himself full of grief for his mother but far from consoled by his relationship with his rather distant father, a political activist, world traveller and lover of women.

Nuri goes on holiday with his father to a beach-front hotel in Alexandria, but notes that "he seemed to have lost his way with me; widowhood had dispossessed him of any ease that he had once had around his only child". While sitting by the pool one day, Nuri meets Mona, a young woman in a yellow swimming suit and in the easy way which young boys can sometimes adopt, finds himself picking a thorn out of her toe. Nuri's father watches the exchange between Mona and Nuri and the outcome of his glance suggests that it is not only the son who will become entranced with Mona.

For the rest of the holiday, Nuri follows Mona around, observing her every movement and developing a powerful early-adolescent love for her. One morning Nuri comes down to breakfast and finds that Mona and his father have already eaten and are walking by the sea, "their paces could not have been better matched". With adult eyes we see what Nuri is soon going to discover, that Mona is going to be a permanent feature in both their lives from now on, but her emotional hold of both father and son is going to lead to some subtle complications later on.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Anatomy of an Oedipus Complex
An adolescent Arab boy spots a sexy Englishwoman by the pool, not long after he has lost his mother. Read more
Published 17 months ago by The Amazon J
4.0 out of 5 stars Be careful what you wish for, as you might live to regret those...
Nuri is a young pre teen who loses both Parents within a few years of one another. It's the disappearance of his Dad and the circumstances surrounding his disappearance that form... Read more
Published 24 months ago by B. Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Disappearing Romance
I bought the book on the strength of the narrative and the author's earlier work. Whilst I thought that the cover did it a disservice, the writing and storyline were compelling.
Published on 17 April 2012 by Christine A Large
3.0 out of 5 stars Grappling with enigmas
There are actually two disappearances in this novel: the first is the death of the 10-year old Nuri's mother, which is never spoken about by Kamal, his father. Read more
Published on 26 Mar 2012 by Ralph Blumenau
4.0 out of 5 stars A Moving and Beautifully Crafted Story
Hisham Matar's 'Anatomy of a Disappearance' is a novel of love, loss and longing. The story is narrated in the voice of Nuri el-Alfi, who we first meet as a young teenager; his... Read more
Published on 3 Mar 2012 by Susie B
4.0 out of 5 stars Anatomy of a Disappearance
Refreshingly well written book, an intriguing narrative. That is it in a nutshell. What more is there to say about it?
Published on 9 Jan 2012 by Penname
3.0 out of 5 stars subtle novel about a son's love for his disappeared father, his...
The novel starts with the appearance in the life of the just about to become adolescent narrator of the woman who will become his stepmother (though 'I saw her first' is what he... Read more
Published on 21 Dec 2011 by William Jordan
4.0 out of 5 stars Hidden depths
I read this for a recent book group. I enjoyed it, taking it purely at face value. I then discussed it within our group, several of whom were of Arab origin, and suddenly I... Read more
Published on 16 Nov 2011 by DubaiReader
5.0 out of 5 stars Hisham Matar, Anatomy of a disappearance
Excellent book, well written, very insightful and hits many key issues that many people can relate to. Another great work by Mr Matar.
Published on 9 Nov 2011 by Swehlistuta
4.0 out of 5 stars "Eighteen months after my parents employed Naima, our king was dragged...
Libyan author Hisham Matar draws on his own life to provide insights into this story of a son's yearning for the father he loved but who vanished when he was fourteen. Read more
Published on 5 Oct 2011 by Mary Whipple
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