Two Essays on Hisham Matar’s Novels

Tasnim Qutait, “Like His Father Before Him”: Patrilineality and Nationalism in the work of Hisham Matar, Jamal Mahjoub and Robin Yassin-Kassab, Postcolonial Interventions 2/2, 2017, pp. 129–160.

Abstract: Despite recent increased attention to the study of masculinities in the Middle East, discussions of gender and nationalism in the Arab world tend to focus on the impact of the patriarchal nation-state on women. This focus, in part reflecting the persistence of essentialist discourses about the disempowered Arab woman, elides the centrality of masculinity and patrilineality to the narratives of the nation-state. In this article, I consider the implications of patrilineality in the work of three Arab British authors, identifying the centrality of the absent or distant father to the examination of nationalism and exile in this emerging literature. The article examines two novels by Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men (2006) and Anatomy of a Disappearance (2011), alongside Jamal Mahjoub’s Travelling with Djinns (2003) and Robin Yassin-Kassab’s The Road from Damascus (2008). Matar, Yassin-Kassab and Mahjoub are three writers settled in Britain and writing in English, with backgrounds in Libya, Syria and Sudan respectively. I argue that all three writers employ a narrative of failed filial relationships in order to dramatize a sense of distance from the post-independence generation, and the growing awareness of the discontinuities between an emancipatory national project and the reality of state violence.

Christopher Micklethwait, “Zenga Zenga and Bunga Bunga: The Novels of Hisham Matar and a Critique of Gaddafi’s Libya”, in The Edinburgh Companion to the Arab Novel in English: The Politics of Anglo-Arab and Arab-American Literature and Culture, edited by Nouri Gana, Edinburgh University Press, 2013, pp. 171–196.

From the essay: “The two novels of Anglo Libyan author Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men (2006) and Anatomy of a Disappearance (2011), center on the abduction of their respective protagonists’ fathers at the hands of revolutionary dictatorships. In the former, the father, Faraj el Dewani, is seized by members of the Revolutionary Committee during the reign of political terror in Libya in 1979, viciously tortured in custody, and then released to his family after confessing and revealing the names of his co-conspirators. In the latter, the father, Kamal Pasha El-Alfi, an ex-minister and exiled dissident of an unnamed Arab country, is kidnapped from the home of his mistress in Geneva in the winter of 1972, never to be seen or heard from again. The thematic similarities of these plots have made it difficult not to relate them to the author’s family and personal experiences with the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, which ruled Libya from 1969 until 2011. As Matar has reported in several public interviews, his father, political dissident Jaballa Matar, vanished from Cairo in 1990 where he had been living in exile; he had been abducted by Libyan agents with the cooperation of Egyptian security forces and clandestinely repatriated to Libya where he was held, for a time, in Libya’s infamous Abu Salim prison, only to disappear completely in 1996…”

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