Having recently been in conversation with Hisham Matar at Hatchards, I then wrote this piece for the Biographers’ Club website earlier this week:
The Return is the account of Matar’s return to Libya in 2012 in search of his father who had been abducted from Egypt in 1990 by Qaddafi’s henchmen and sent to the notorious Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, where he was tortured and very probably killed. The descriptions of how it feels to be an exile and the ‘survivor’s guilt’ that accompanies a life in exile, is written about both movingly and grippingly. Is the hope that his father might have survived the massacre (there was a possible sighting in 2002) better than the certainty that he was dead? He writes that to be a Libyan is to live with questions, mostly unanswered, but that need and uncertainty are excellent teachers and that although his family was torn apart by the events, it ultimately made them stronger. His descriptions of pain are unflinching and yet this testament to his father and to his country proves the importance of memories: once someone has entered your heart they are always with you. His uncle Mahmoud, also jailed, always kept a place in his mind where he could love and forgive.
Matar experiences the world in words and images and spends many hours looking at paintings, indeed he looks at one painting for many months. This led him to go to Siena, the subject of his latest book A Month in Siena. Two very different books – but both are extraordinary and highly recommended.
The Return – Penguin ££9.99
A Month in Siena – Penguin £12.99