Novelist Matar (Anatomy of a Disappearance, 2011, etc.) returns to his native Libya in 2012 following a three-decade exile.
At the center of this moving and vividly documented memoir is the author’s quest to find answers to his father’s disappearance in 1990. Jaballa Matar had formerly worked for the Libyan delegation to the United States yet later became an influential political dissident who, in reacting against Muammar Gaddafi’s revolutionary regime, was forced to flee with his family from their home in Tripoli to Cairo. A decade later, while the author was a student in London, his father was kidnapped in the streets of Cairo by forces in the Libyan government. Though his eventual whereabouts would remain uncertain, he was likely held prisoner in the notorious Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, where he may have perished in the 1996 massacre of over 1,200 prisoners. Matar provides an intimate and absorbing account of the complex political events that would eventually lead to Gaddafi’s downfall. As he shifts his focus between past and present events, allowing details of his father’s disappearance to slowly and subtly emerge, he reveals a suspense novelist’s seasoned instincts. In his ruminations on returning to a long-forgotten family and country, and the consequences of time passing, he applies a poet’s sensibility. “Somebody would be telling an anecdote and midway through I would realize I had heard it before,” he writes. “It seemed as if everyone else’s development had been linear, allowed to progress naturally in the known environment, and therefore each of them seemed to have remained linked, even if begrudgingly or in disagreement, to the original setting-off point. At times I was experiencing a kind of distance-sickness, a state in which not only the ground was unsteady but also time and space.”
A beautifully written, harrowing story of a son’s search for his father and how the impact of inexplicable loss can be unrelenting while the strength of family and cultural ties can ultimately sustain.