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.