Saturday, August 13, 2011

hisham matar's anatomy of a disappearance goes international

There was disappointment and surprise in some quarters when Libyan novelist Hisham Matar's second novel Anatomy of a Disappearance did not make the Man Booker longlist of 13 novels announced on 26 July. See for example the take of reviewer and critic Suzi Feay who includes Anatomy of a Disappearance on her personal longlist. Matar's debut novel In the Country of Men caused a major stir in 2006 when it was shortlisted for the prize, and it has received a surge of new interest during the Libyan uprising for its compelling and subtle portrait of the Gaddafi police state in Tripoli in 1979. It won several major literary awards, including the Commonwealth Writers Award for the Best First Book, Europe and South Asia Region, and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize for the book that best evokes the spirit of a place. It has been translated into nearly 30 languages.
In the Country of Men is the focus of a forthcoming edition of the BBC World Service's World Book Club. The programme is due to be recorded on 24 August at the World Service's Bush House headquarters in central London. Matar will be talking about the novel in front of a live audience; questions can be emailed to

Anatomy of a Disappearance has received much praise and generally, though not uniformly, highly favourable reviews - certainly better than some of the titles that made the longlist. But waht would a Man Booker longlist or shortlist be if it did not cause ripples, and complaints that a particular hotly tipped favourite was not selected.

When the BBC presenter Rosie Goldsmith interviewed Matar for last month's London Literature Festival she enthused about his “absolutely wonderful” second book. “It's been heaped with praise and I can only heap it with even more praise," she said. "It is superb. It is also the most wonderful page turner. It’s a short book but it’s quite epic and grand in its ambition. It is also very erotic: the whole book is saturated with a kind of suppressed sex and emotion.”

Anatomy of a Disappearance is now beginning to appear in other territories and langauges following its debut UK publication [pictured centre] by Penguin imprint Viking on March 3. The German edition, translated by Werner Löcher-Lawrence, is published by the Random House imprint Luchterhand Literaturverlag under the title Geschichte eines Verschwindens. Another Random House imprint The Dial Press publishes the US version on 23 August.
It's interesting to compare the covers of a novel in different editions and languages - I recall the Jordanian-British novelist Fadia Faqir writing on this in her article A Dalek in a Burqa published by
What to make of the garment on the cover of the US edition? One of the most striking images in the novel is the narrator's first sight of Egyptian-British Mona (for whom the narrator falls as a young teenager, and whom his father marries) at the swimming pool of a hotel in Alexandria wearing "an outrageoulsy bright yellow swimsuit that made her skin seem darker, her age younger." The cover of the US edition has a part-Edwardian part-Japanese effect.

Hisham's London-based literary agent AP Watt says that other editions agreed so far are Canada (Hamish Hamilton, a Penguin imprint); Arabic (Dar El Shorouk, Cairo); Danish (Gyldendal); Dutch (JM Meulenhoff); Finnish (Söderström); French (Denoël); Hebrew (Keter); Italian (Einaudi); Norwegian (Cappelen Damm); Polish (Smak Slowa); Portuguese - Brazil (Record) - Portugal (Civilizacao); Spanish (Salamandra); Swedish (Forum); Turkish (Pegasus).

Hisham appears with Egyptian-British novelist and essayist Ahdaf Soueif and BBC special correspondent Allan Little at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 26 August, at an event titled Revolution in the 21st Century: North Africa. On 29 August he is in conversation with Kirsty Lang, presenter of BBC Radio 4's cultural daily slot Front Row, at the inaugural Voewood Festival ("the literary garden party of the year" - other participants include the legendary Diana Athill) near Holt in Norfolk. He travels to Italy in September for the Mantova literary festival. He's due to appear at the Jaipur Festival in January and is likely also to appear at the Emirates Airline Festival in Dubai in March.

Hisham is an associate professor at women's liberal arts college Barnard College, New York, an affiliated college of Columbia University, where he will be teaching a new course in the fall: Estrangement and Exile in Global Novels.

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