Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar

Anatomy of a Disappearance

Five words from the blurb: boy, mother, dies, father, disappears

I have had a run of disappointing books recently and so I was craving something special. Anatomy of a Disappearance had everything I was looking for and so I’m pleased to report that my reading slump is now officially over.

The book grabbed my attention from the very first line:

There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest. Other times I can barely recall the exact features of his face and must bring out the photographs I keep in an old envelope in the drawer of my bedside table. There has not been a day since his sudden and mysterious vanishing that I have not been searching for him, looking in the most unlikely places. 

The central character, Nuri, was a young boy when his mother died, but his father failed to adequately fill the gap created by her death. This book could be described as a coming-of-age story, showing the difficulties Nuri faced growing up without his mother, but it is so much more than that – there is a touching love story and compelling mystery contained in this book too.

The plot is further complicated by the fact that his father is a political activist in constant fear for his life. One day all their fears come true when he vanishes in the middle of the night. The book is based upon the author’s own experiences (Hisham Matar’s father was abducted by Egyptian secret service agents in 1990) and this creates a realistic narrative, filled with subtle emotion.  It also gives an insight in the life of families living in limbo, not knowing if their loved ones are dead or alive.

Anatomy of a Disappearance is short and easy to read. I finished it in a single sitting, compelled to continue by the engaging plot. I was impressed by the number of different issues convincingly covered in such a small number of pages. The simplicity of the prose means that this book will have broad appeal, but it also has a subtle depth that will keep fans of literary fiction happy too.

Highly recommended.


20 replies on “Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar”

Yay for reading slumps ending! I haven’t heard of this one before, so thanks for spotlighting it. What’s most intriguing is that it was inspired by true events in the author’s life. Glad it gave the whole thing a more realistic tone instead of seeming over embellished. I’m adding this one to my list now. Great review!

Jenna, I didn’t realise how closely the book reflected the author’s life until I was researching it for the review. It is so sad, but it does show that personal experience often results in a more powerful book. I hope that you enjoy it.

Hi Jackie

A great review. I’ve been thinking of reading this book for a while. Now you’ve convinced me that I should. The fact that Egypt has been and still is in the news makes it even more relevant. I’m nearing the end of a 600 page novel so maybe this would be a ‘lighter’ read.Thanks.


Leela, This is a perfect choice for a lighter read. The subject matter is anything but light, but it is so quick and easy to read. My only warning is that this book doesn’t have much Egyptian atmosphere or any information about the political situation. This didn’t bother me, but I can see some people being frustrated by it. I hope that you enjoy it if you decide to give it a go.

I really enjoyed this book. I was amazed how so much subject matter could be such an easy read. I breezed through this one in very little time and came away very satisfied.

It does sound dark, which is a real testament to the writing if it is so easy to read. Glad the slump is over! It can be hard to dig yourself out of the hole.

Sandy, It is amazing to think how dark the themes of this book are given the light tone. Part of me wishes that this book did have some darker sections, but I loved it as it was so shouldn’t really think about changing it.

I’m halfway through this, and I can see why you read it all in one sitting. I started this last night, an only put it down when I realised I had to be upin 4 hours, and really should go to sleep!

Jo, LOL! I’m glad I started it early enough in the day to be able to finish it in one sitting. I feel your pain at having to go to sleep 🙂 Enjoy the ending!

Yay, I’m glad you like it! I love “In the Country of Men” a little more but it would be interesting for someone like you who read the order of the 2 books the other way round. I look forward to hear what you think about it. 🙂

Jo, I would love it if “In the Country of Men” was better than this. That will be a tough job though. I look forward to comparing the two 🙂

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