How to pronounce Hisham Matar: ma-TARR
Hisham Matar was born in 1970 in New York City where his father, Jaballa
Matar, worked for the Libyan delegation to the United Nations. When
he was three years old, his family returned to Tripoli, Libya where he spent his
early childhood until political persecution forced his mother to flee with the
children first to Kenya and then to Egypt, where they settled in Cairo and
Hisham and his brother Ziad attended a school with 70 pupils per classroom (the
only school they could afford). Later, Hisham's father managed to get out of
Libya and join them.
In Cairo, Hisham's father began his political work in earnest: writing against the Libyan regime and mobilizing the various factions of the exiled Libyan resistance to unite in order to overthrow the regime. In 1986, Hisham moved to London, England where he received a degree in architecture. In 1990, while Hisham and his brother were both in London, their father was taken away by the Egyptian secret police.
The family heard nothing until 1996 when they received two smuggled letters in Jaballa's hand, written a year earlier, and a tape recording stating that he had been kidnapped by the Egyptian secret police and handed over to the Libyan regime where he was imprisoned in the notorious Abu-Salim prison in Tripoli. Since then, nobody has heard from him.
Hisham Matar's first novel, In the Country of Men, was shortlisted for a number of literary prizes including the 2006 Man Booker Prize, and won the 2007 Commonwealth First Book Award for Europe and South Asia, the 2007 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, the Italian Premio Vallombrosa Gregor von Rezzori, the Italian Premio Internazionale Flaiano (Sezione Letteratura) and the inaugural Arab American National Museum Book Award. To date, In the Country of Men has been translated into 22 languages. Matar is also the author of a novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance. Hisham Matar lives in London.
Read Hisham Matar's story in his own words at The Independent.
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In the Country of Men loosely mirrors some of the events that have taken place in your life. Given this fact, when and how did the idea of writing it begin to take shape?
When I first began writingIn the Country of Men all I had was the voice of the protagonist. He intrigued me and my desire to want to know him and his world became almost compulsive. It is by far much more interesting and entertaining to write and read work that is a product of the imagination rather than a list of remembered events. Some works of fiction read like lists, events that have happened and therefore hold little surprise for the author, who ought to be constantly on his toes for the next possibility. This is why I had no interest in writing an autobiographical account of my childhood.
Most of the main characters are men, aside from perhaps the novels most luminous figure, Suleimans mother. Explain the significance behind the books title and how you came to choose it.
The book revolves around the complex and intense relationship between the protagonist and his young mother. The two often seem guests in a world decided and shaped by men.
Despite her illness and supposed inferiority, Suleimans mother is ...
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