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Arab Americans

Hisham Matar

Hisham Matar

Hisham Matar (Arabicهشام مطر‎) (born 1970)[1] is a Libyan writer. His debut novel In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize.[1] Matar’s essays have appeared in the Asharq AlawsatThe IndependentThe Guardian,The Times and The New York Times. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was published on 3 March 2011. He currently lives and writes in London.


Hisham Matar was born in New York City. He spent his childhood in America with his Libyan parents while his father, Jaballa Matar, was working for the Libyan delegation to the United Nations. When he was three years old, his family went back toTripoliLibya, where he spent his early childhood. Due to political persecutions by the Gaddafi regime, in 1979 his father was accused of being a reactionary to the Libyan revolutionary regime and was forced to flee the country with his family. They lived in exile in Egypt where Hisham and his brother completed their schooling in Cairo.[2][3] In 1986 Matar moved to Londonwhere he continued his studies and received a degree in architecture. Also in London he completed the MA in Design Futures at Goldsmiths, University of London.

In 1990, while Matar was in London, his father Jaballa, a political dissident, was kidnapped in Cairo. He has been reported missing ever since. However, in 1996, the family received two letters in his father’s handwriting stating that he had been kidnapped by the Egyptian secret police, handed over to the Libyan regime, and imprisoned in the notorious Abu Salim prison in the heart of Tripoli. Since that date, there has been little information about Jaballa Matar’s whereabouts. In 2010 Hisham Matar reported that he had received news that his father had been seen alive in 2002, indicating that Jaballa had survived a 1996 massacre of 1200 political prisoners by the Libyan authorities.[4]

In March 1990, Egyptian secret service agents abducted my father from his home in Cairo. For the first two years they led us to believe that he was being held in Egypt, and told us to keep quiet or else they could not guarantee his safety. In 1992 my father managed to smuggle out a letter. A few months later my mother held it in her hand. His careful handwriting curled tightly on to itself to fit as many words as possible on the single A4 sheet of paper. Words with hardly a space between, above or beneath them. No margins, they run to the brink.[5]

Literary career

Matar began writing his first novel, In the Country of Men, in early 2000. In the autumn of 2005, the publishers Penguin International signed him to a two-book deal. In the Country of Men was published in July 2006 and has been translated into 22 languages.

In 2008 Matar became the Mary Amelia Cummins Harvey Visiting Fellow Commoner at Girton College at the University of Cambridge. He is currently a writer-in-residence for the charity First Story.

Matar’s second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, contains a character whose father is taken away by the authorities; while Matar acknowledges the relation to his own father’s disappearance, he has stated that the novel is not autobiographical.

Awards and recognition

In the Country of Men received accolades from writers including J. M. CoetzeeAnne Michaels and Nadeem Aslam.[6] It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize[7] and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2006.[8] The book won the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best First Book award for Europe and South Asia, the 2007 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, the 2007 Premio Gregor von Rezzori for foreign fiction translated into Italian, the Italian Premio Internazionale Flaiano (Sezione Letteratura) and the inaugural Arab American Book Award. “In the Country of Men” has been translated into 22 languages. Matar’s short story, “Naima“, was included in The Pen/O. Henry Prize Short Stories, The Best Stories of the Year, 2012 collection of short stories, which, as a quote by The Atlantic Monthly reads on its cover, is “Widely regarded as the nation’s most prestigious awards for short fiction.”



  1. Jump up to:a b “The Man Booker Prize 2006 Shortlist” (Press release). Booker Prize Foundation. 14 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-14.
  2. Jump up^ “Hisham Matar”. Penguin UK. Retrieved 2006-11-16.
  3. Jump up^ Moss, Stephen (29 June 2006). “Hisham Matar”. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-06-29.
  4. Jump up^ Hisham Matar has just learnt that his father, who disappeared 20 years ago, might be alive The Guardian 16 January 2010
  5. Jump up^ “Hisham Matar”The Guardian (London). 2010-01-16.
  6. Jump up^ Page, Benedicte (2006-09-24). “In the Country of Men”. London: The Independent. Retrieved 2006-09-24.
  7. Jump up^ “The Man Booker Award”. The Man & Booker groups. Retrieved 2006-10-10.
  8. Jump up^ “The Guardian First Book Award”. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2006-11-10.