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Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar

Anatomy of a Disappearance (2011)

by Hisham Matar

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This is a mannerly constrained small novel about one boy’s three mothers and only father, all of them unknown quantities to the child they parent. It is about the deceit that can be perpetrated among a cabal of cooperation. It is about the strength of father-son relationships that can persist even in the father’s absence and about the delusions and self-deception the very young hold onto about their parents even when they can stand on their own.

10-year-old Cairene, Nuri el-Alfi, loses his mother to an apparent suicide. It is his nurse, a family servant, who fills the maternal role during his mother's emotional inaccessibility and following her death. Nuri reaches his teens before his father marries a young woman, Mona, whom Nuri adores. His adoration becomes Oedipal. Some years later, he and Mona are in Paris, expecting his father to join them for a vacation while Nuri is on break from his English boarding school. Here they learn that his father has been abducted from a woman's apartment in Geneva where Nuri's father had been, apparently conducting his endless political business.

For the next 10 years, Nuri makes efforts to find out what happened to his father as he completes his education and fulfills his father's ambitions for him. Inexorably, the day comes when he learns the truth about his father and about someone else. But can Nuri accept these revelations? Matar ends his book in ambiguity.

Matar is a master of tone, of lean prose, of tender consideration of his characters, and of creating an atmosphere of inevitability that is characteristic of Greek tragedy, a form this novel obviously resembles. An excellent novel by the author of In the Country of Men. ( )
  Limelite | Jan 16, 2014 |
Incredibly beautiful writing and a heart-breaking work. Yet I was left with several unanswered questions when I finished this novel, and even those that were answered I didn't feel entirely satisfied with. An entirely worthwhile read, but be aware that this is a book you'll value more for the writing than the story. ( )
  aea2142 | Jan 12, 2014 |
A quiet, haunting story of a boy's loss in the inexplicable political machinations of our times, as his Libyan father disappears in exile. Beautiful written as he looks back on those rare moments with his father: "A dark tenderness rises in me now as I think how hard he had tried, how I yearn still for an easy sympathy with my father." ( )
  featherbooks | Nov 12, 2013 |
This is beautifully written and one to read every word slowly to appreciate the poetry of the language. Less is more. ( )
  shirleybell | Sep 26, 2013 |
Nuri is 12 when his mother dies, 14 when his father is kidnapped by political opponents and probably murdered; he spends the next few years shuffling between his English boarding school and the apartment of his beautiful young step-mother, Mona, on whom he is uncomfortably fixated. I liked the prose of Anatomy of a Disappearance—there were one or two of the more lyrical lines which didn't quite work for me, but otherwise Matar's style manages to be spare while also being descriptive and suggestive. That's quite a skill! However, I was disappointed by the overall story. I could have dealt with the lack of resolution of many of the main plotlines if there had been some sense of emotional growth or change on Nuri's part. Nuri is largely passive throughout, his character somewhat opaque even from a first person POV, and I was uncomfortable with many aspects of the construction of the female characters. There's enough promise in Matar's writing to make me willing to read more of his work, but I doubt that I will be returning to this particular book. ( )
  siriaeve | May 12, 2013 |
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Yet for all its elegance, “Anatomy of a Disappearance” is a little disappointing. The narrative voice has a coldness, a pained fragility, utterly at odds with the vividness and spontaneity of “In the Country of Men.”
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There are times when my father's absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.
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Born into exile, eleven-year-old Nuri, the son of worldly parents who fled the revolution in their Arab country, is transfixed along with his widowed father by an Arab-English woman who joins their family, a situation that is complicated by Nuri's father's disappearance.… (more)

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