Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Traumatised Narrators in Hisham Matar's Novels

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Traumatised Narrators in Hisham Matar's Novels

Article excerpt


This article concerns the child-protagonist narrators, Suleiman and Nuri, of Hisham Matar's two novels In the Country of Men and Anatomy of a Disappearance respectively. Noting how their traumatised experiences relate closely to the writer's own Libyan childhood, the discussion focuses on their use of desperate strategies to cope with, or challenge, their predicaments. Matar's personal awareness of lives marked by "shame, pain and fear", and the difficulty of imagining a "better reality", helps to create his awareness of both boys' anguish, especially in relation to their fathers (lost in Suleiman's case; disappeared, like Matar's, in Nuri's). The stages of each narrator's childhood are traced, highlighting how much more self-defeating Nuri's choices ultimately are, despite his life apparently being easier. The greater pessimism of the second novel may reflect a growing awareness in Matar himself of the profound difficulties for Libyans in constructing a new post-Gaddafi vision for themselves.


Hierdie artikel handel oor die kinderprotagonisvertellers van Hisham Matar se twee romans In the Country of Men en Anatomy of a Disappearance: orderskeidelik Suleiman en Nuri. Deur op te let hoe huile ervarings aansluiting vind by die skrywer se eie Libiese kinderjare, fokus die bespreking op hul desperate strategiee om hul haglike omstandighede die hoof te bied of uit te daag. Matar se persoonlike bewustheid van lewens wat deur "skaamte, pyn en vrees" gekenmerk is, en die probleem om daarin te slaag om 'n "beter realiteit" te verbeel, help om sy bewustheid van albei seuns se leed te skep, veral ten opsigte van hul vaders (verloor (in Suleiman se geval), verdwyn (soos in Matar se geval) in Nuri s'n). Die onderskeie stadiums in elk van die vertellers se kinderjare word nagespoor om te beklemtoon hoeveel meer selfverydelend Nuri se keuses uiteindelik is, al is sy lewe skynbaar makliker. Die groter pessimisme van die tweede roman mag 'n groeiende bewustheid reflekteer in Matar self van die diepgaande probleme vir Libiers om 'n nuwe, post-Gadaffi beeld te konstrueer.

In the early days Matar was regarded as a British Libyan or Anglo-Arab writer. However, "[a]fter the Libyan uprising everyone calls [him] the Libyan novelist, who lives in London" (McBain 2011: 3). In an interview on the subject of Anglo-Arab literature, Fadia Faqir, who describes herself as a "cross-cultural, transnational writer par excellence", points out that

[v]ery few Arabic books get translated into English and most of them confirm stereotypes about the Arabs.

(Bower 2010: 8)

Matar, on the other hand, tells one of his interviewers, Lina Sergie Attar, that "[he does not] write in Arabic" (Matar in Attar 2011: 4), and that his "Arabic isn't as good as [his] English" (p. 4). However, although Arabic was in fact "the first language that [he] used to express [his] emotions, [his] desires, [his] needs" (p. 4), he finds that, by writing in English, "the distance has allowed a kind of freedom to write about things that matter to [him], that seem overwhelming at times" (p. 4). Although he explains to another interviewer, Nouri Gana, that his English "tends to be better than [his] Arabic" because "[s]ince [he] was a boy [he] attended English schools" (2007: 3), his practice does not make it a natural one:

"In fact, what interests me about my situation is how unnatural it continues to be.... It is certainly not an easy thing to write outside one's language. It is the deepest and most peculiar dimension of exile that I have experienced."

(Matar in Gana 2007: 3)

Significant also for my enterprise are two of Matar's other admissions to Gana. The first is:

"I am terribly ignorant with regard to contemporary writing in general. I find I rarely read a book by a living author. But I would love for you to introduce me to the work of contemporary Arab novelists writing in English. …

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