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Anatomy of a Disappearance

Anatomy of a Disappearance

2.0 3
by Hisham Matar

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This mesmerizing literary novel is written with all the emotional precision and intimacy that have won Hisham Matar tremendous international recognition. In a voice that is delicately wrought and beautifully tender, he asks: When a loved one disappears, how does that absence shape the lives of those who are left?


This mesmerizing literary novel is written with all the emotional precision and intimacy that have won Hisham Matar tremendous international recognition. In a voice that is delicately wrought and beautifully tender, he asks: When a loved one disappears, how does that absence shape the lives of those who are left?
“A haunting novel, exquisitely written and psychologically rich.”—The Washington Post
Nuri is a young boy when his mother dies. It seems that nothing will fill the emptiness her death leaves behind in the Cairo apartment he shares with his father—until they meet Mona, sitting in her yellow swimsuit by the pool of the Magda Marina hotel. As soon as Nuri sees Mona, the rest of the world vanishes. But it is Nuri’s father with whom Mona falls in love and whom she eventually marries. Their happiness consumes Nuri to the point where he wishes his father would disappear. Nuri will, however, soon regret what he’s wished for. When his father, a dissident in exile from his homeland, is abducted under mysterious circumstances, the world that Nuri and his stepmother share is shattered. And soon they begin to realize how little they knew about the man they both loved.
“At once a probing mystery of a father’s disappearance and a vivid coming-of-age story . . . This novel is compulsively readable.”—The Plain Dealer
“Studded with little jewels of perception, deft metaphors and details that illuminate character or set a scene.”—The New York Times
“One of the most moving works based on a boy’s view of the world.”—Newsweek
“Elegiac . . . [Hisham Matar] writes of a son’s longing for a lost father with heartbreaking acuity.”—Newsday
Don’t miss the conversation between Hisham Matar and Hari Kunzru at the back of the book. 

Chicago Tribune • The Daily Beast • The Independent • The Guardian • The Daily Telegraph • Toronto Sun • The Irish Times
Look for special features inside. Join the Circle for author chats and more.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Anatomy of a Disappearance 

Chicago Tribune • The Daily Beast • The Independent • The Guardian • The Telegraph • The Toronto Sun • Irish Times

“For Western readers, what often seemed lacking [in the coverage of the Arab Spring] was an authentic interpreter and witness, someone who could speak across cultures and make us feel the abundant miseries that fueled the revolt.  No one plays this role, in my view, as powerfully, as Hisham Matar…Matar writes in English, in extraordinarily powerful and densely evocative prose: he seems uniquely poised to play the role of literary ambassador between two worlds…”—The New York Times

“Mesmerizing. . . . The recent events that have lent topicality to this elegiac novel might easily have swamped a lesser work. Its strength rests in Matar's decision to focus on emotional rather than material details, proving that in art, at least, the personal can trump the political.”—Houston Chronicle

“A haunting novel, exquisitely written and psychologically rich.”—Washington Post

 “[A] potent new novel . . . which moves among eerily silent interiors in London, Cairo, and Geneva to evoke the emotional vacuum that follows [a] father’s abduction.”—Vogue

“Outstanding . . . with its stylistic echoes of Nabokov.”—The Irish Times
“Elegiac . . . [Hisham Matar] writes of a son’s longing for his lost father with heartbreaking acuity.”—Newsday

“A son without closure writes sparingly and brilliantly about what it is to suffer loss without end.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Eloquent . . . one of the most moving works based on a boy’s view of the world.”

“A searing vision of familial rupture and disintegration. . . .  At once tough and tender, shaped by the sorrows of memory, Nuri's story is searching, acquiring power in its graceful acceptance of the impossibility of certainty. . . . An elegant and smart evocation of the complexities of filial love.”—«Publishers Weekly, starred review

“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. I was moved and very impressed.”—Roddy Doyle
“Sculpted in a prose of clutter-free, classical precision . . . a pure demonstration of the strange alchemy of fiction.”—The Independent (U.K.)
“A tenderly written novel with Shakespearean themes, it can be read as a deeply personal account of the losses that tyranny and exile produce.”—The Times Literary Supplement
“Haunting in every sense . . . An absorbing novel that finds its eloquence in what is left unsaid.”—The Sunday Times (London)
“Submerged grief gives this fine novel the mythic inexorability of Greek tragedy.”—The Economist
“A fable of loss, and an often troubling meditation on fathers and sons . . . Hisham Matar is writing from the heart.”—The Guardian (London)

Ron Charles
Matar is an elegant writer…The resolution is too sudden and revelatory, but Anatomy of a Disappearance remains a haunting novel, exquisitely written and psychologically rich.
—The Washington Post
Robert F. Worth
Like its predecessor, Anatomy of a Disappearance is studded with little jewels of perception, deft metaphors and details that illuminate character or set a scene.
—The New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
Whereas Matar's debut, In the Country of Men (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize), focuses on political brutality, this much subtler novel only hints at violence. Again, though, it is told from a child's perspective, that of 11-year-old Nuri, who lives in exile in Cairo with his Arab father. A love triangle of sorts develops when the father marries a younger woman desired by the son. When the father goes missing, the son seeks answers and learns some surprising truths about his father's life. Nuri's relationship with his young stepmother, Mona, is the novel's most compelling element; there's plenty of tension as their connection changes over the years. The revelations in the final pages are compelling, too, with the book's evocative tone of loneliness and displacement. Some mysteries, however, such as the cause of Nuri's mother's death, are left unresolved, and the scenes set at Nuri's boarding school could be further developed. Still, this is an engrossing tale, made more so by the knowledge that the author's father, an anti-Gadhafi activist, also disappeared. VERDICT Recommended for fans of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. [See Prepub Alert, 2/14/11.]—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC
Kirkus Reviews

A boy grows into a man in the suffocating vacuum of his father's abrupt and unresolved vanishing.

Though his books might seem to echo current events, it is the weight of personal history that drives the novels of Libyan author Matar (In the Country of Men, 2007). In his Booker-shortlisted debut novel, he deftly fictionalized his own experience—the author's dissident father Jaballa Matar was ruthlessly kidnapped by Egyptian secret-service agents in 1990 and imprisoned in a Libyan prison at the order of Muammar Gaddafi. In his latest, Matar portrays an even more acute sense of loss by contrasting two parental losses with the complicated relationship between a boy and his young stepmother. The narrator, Nuri Pasha, gracefully relates his story from the age of 11 to the present day. His mother, a wisp of a woman, dies early, driving Nuri and his father, an exiled political activist, together. "After she passed away he and I came to resemble two flat-sharing bachelors kept together by circumstance or obligation," Nuri muses. Their world is thrown into upheaval when Nuri's father meets 24-year-old Mona, a stunning Arab woman of English descent. Closer in age to Nuri than less-than-fatherly Kamal, Mona becomes an obsession for both father and son, adding to Kamal's confusing, furtive behavior. One winter as Nuri and Mona spend time together in Montreux, they receive word that Kamal has been abducted from the bedside of a woman in Geneva. A lesser writer might suppose that Nuri and Mona would find comfort in their communal untethering, but Matar cautiously and evocatively explores the unique and terrifying world in which Nuri finds himself. "I felt guilty, too, as I continue to feel today, at having lost him, at not knowing how to find him or take his place. Every day I let my father down."

A son without closure writes sparingly and brilliantly about what it is to suffer loss without end.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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5.38(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.61(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest. Other times I can barely recall the exact features of his face and must bring out the photographs I keep in an old envelope in the drawer of my bedside table. There has not been a day since his sudden and mysterious vanishing that I have not been searching for him, looking in the most unlikely places. Everything and everyone, existence itself, has become an evocation, a possibility for resemblance. Perhaps this is what is meant by that brief and now almost archaic word: elegy.

I do not see him in the mirror but feel him adjusting, as if he were twisting within a shirt that nearly fits. My father has always been intimately mysterious even when he was present. I can almost imagine how it might have been coming to him as an equal, as a friend, but not quite.


My father disappeared in 1972, at the beginning of my school Christmas holiday, when I was fourteen. Mona and I were staying at the Montreux Palace, taking breakfast— I with my large glass of bright orange juice, and she with her steaming black tea—on the terrace overlooking the steel-blue surface of Lake Geneva, at the other end of which, beyond the hills and the bending waters, lay the now vacant city of Geneva. I was watching the silent paragliders hover above the still lake, and she was paging through La Tribune de Genève, when suddenly her hand rose to her mouth and trembled.

A few minutes later we were aboard a train, hardly speaking, passing the newspaper back and forth.

We collected from the police station the few belongings that were left on the bedside table. When I unsealed the small plastic bag, along with the tobacco and the lighter flint, I smelled him. That same watch is now wrapped round my wrist, and even today, after all these years, when I press the underside of the leather strap against my nostrils I can detect a whiff of him.


I wonder now how different my story would have been were Mona’s hands unbeautiful, her fingertips coarse.

I still, all of these years later, hear the same childish persistence, “I saw her first,” which bounced like a devil on my tongue whenever I caught one of Father’s claiming gestures: his fingers sinking into her hair, his hand landing on her skirted thigh with the absentmindedness of a man touching his earlobe in mid-sentence. He had taken to the Western habit of holding hands, kissing, embracing in public. But he could not fool me; like a bad actor, he seemed unsure of his steps. Whenever he would catch me watching him, he would look away and I swear I could see color in his cheeks. A dark tenderness rises in me now as I think how hard he had tried; how I yearn still for an easy sympathy with my father. Our relationship lacked what I have always believed possible, given time and perhaps after I had become a man, after he had seen me become a father: a kind of emotional eloquence and ease. But now the distances that had then governed our interactions and cut a quiet gap between us continue to shape him in my thoughts.

Meet 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 shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It won six international literary awards, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book award for Europe and South Asia, the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and the inaugural Arab American Book Award. It has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Matar lives in London and serves as an associate professor at Barnard College in New York City.

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Anatomy of a Disappearance 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Heavensent1 More than 1 year ago
Anatomy Of A Disappearance is the sequel to author, Hisham Matar's book 'In The Country Of Men'. The story sets off with a twelve year old boy named Nuri, whose mother just died, leaving Nuri in the care of his maid and his distant father, who was once an high official in the Libyan government and is against the Gadhafi forces. While on vacation, Nuri notices a beautiful woman in a yellow swim suit sitting at the side of the pool cleaning her foot, walking over to her, Nuri begins to clean her foot and sets in motion a future he has no control over. Using Nuri's adolescent enamour of her, Mona manipulates Nuri's father into marrying her. As soon as they are married, Mona sets Nuri up to come upon her while she is showering and convinces Nuri's dad to ship him off to boarding school. Against his father's wishes, he sends Nuri away. At school, Nuri learns about himself and his family and the history that surrounds them all. Then Kamal Pasha, Nuri's dad, disappears and Nuri is left with a step-mother he doesn't like while the events of his father's past unfolds and we learn how his actions have helped to shape Nuri's future. I found the "memoir" to be an easy read, it could be easily read in one afternoon. I didn't get the feeling that it was a memoir, more like a work of fiction about an pubescent young man and the women who help steer his life. I wasn't impressed with his stalking Mona on numerous occasions, his vying for her attention with his father was equally disturbing to read. I thought Nuri to be a rather unlikeable boy who didn't seem to have much of a backbone and perverted thoughts about the women in his life. There was no depth in Nuri's character and I couldn't find any relation to him at all. I didn't have the opportunity to read Hisham Matar's prequel to this novel, and it may have helped with some of the back story, 'Anatomy of a Disappearance' left me with more questions than answers as I found the plot to be spasmodic and irregular, the characters apathetic and obstinate and the dialogue devoid of emotion.