Friday, February 3, 2012


London, Christmas 2010


A boy and his stepmother must come to terms with the disappearance of his father and the truth about his past.


A few years ago I was a summer intern for a literary agency in London. In the midst of reading the slush pile and going to the post office, I had the good fortune to meet a few of the agency's authors. One of them was the brilliant, inspiring and kind Hisham Matar. His debut novel In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2006 and it was in the process of being translated into 28 languages. Hisham said some lovely things about my own writing (I had written a manuscript report for an author friend of his), invited me to lunch along with the agents at his new writing studio, and even got me a book for my birthday (What is Britishness?, in case you were wondering).

All this is to say that I am not exactly in a position to write an unbiased review, but Hisham is a masterful writer in addition to being a singularly lovely person. His second novel, like his first, deals with a Libyan father's forced disappearance and the repercussions for his son and his young wife. The boy, who is at the cusp of manhood, is in love with his stepmother, and they are just close enough in age to make the sudden absence of his father fraught with sexual tension in addition to the obvious distress. The characters are flawed and philosophical, and their story unfolds like a dream as they try to grasp the reality of their hijacked lives.

Hisham is skilled at zeroing in on the most subtle, intricate details. His descriptions and similes are so minute that other comparisons seem clumsy. He writes about the tiniest indents in someone's skin, the flutter of sound almost at the edge of consciousness, and the barest subtleties of expression that speak volumes about the characters. This is the kind of writing that makes you pay closer attention to the tiny nuances in the world around you, and that makes you desperately want to be a better writer.


A review from The Guardian with more details about the disappearance of Hisham's own father.


$10.99 for the Kindle edition


Who is a writer that has inspired you, either through their writing or through a personal acquaintance?


  1. Wow, this is so fascinating! What a great opportunity to work in London and at a literary agency! Very cool! This book sounds wonderful and quite intriguing. I'll definitely check it out.

    Rachel DeWoskin has inspired me through her writing, especially her memoir, Foreign Babes in Beijing, and from when I met her in Chicago last year. When I told her about my experience, her first reaction was, "You should write a book!" That meant so much to me.

    1. Susan, that's great that you had an opportunity to meet Rachel DeWoskin. I first heard about her book when it was assigned for a women's studies course I was going to take in university. I ended up dropping the class because I got into another course, so I didn't read the book until this year. I'm glad she had such encouraging things to say about your story!

  2. I met Jennings Michael Birch, author of They Cage the Animals at Night, quite by accident at a restaurant when I was in 9th grade. I no longer remember what he said to me, but it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.

    1. That's a great story! It's harder to recognize authors than other types of celebrities, and I worry that some day I'll run into a really cool writer and not realize who they are.


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