On the U.S. release of his second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance this fall, Hisham Matar was designated by Robert F. Worth in The New York Times as “an authentic interpreter and witness, someone who could speak across cultures and make us feel the abundant miseries that fueled the revolt.” Revolt here, of course, refers to the Arab Spring, that chain of rebellions from Tunis to Cairo which leveraged union organizing, social media, Wikileaks and was ostensibly triggered by censorship, government violence, skyrocketing unemployment and food prices to turn ordinary citizens against their (often-U.S. backed) dictators in plazas and squares in Middle Eastern and North African capitals. However much those covering it in the United States wanted to point narrowly to Western-invented social media, careful analysis suggested it was a long time in coming with multiple, complex causes. The big story has been and will continue to be told. But in his novels Matar has explored what state violence does to families in their most intimate moments.
Here is one of the many questions that interested me:
Hari Kunzru: This is an extraordinary story—Qaddafi invited everybody to a literary festival, and then arrested them all, and people were given a sentence up to ten years.
Hisham Matar: On average, yes, ten years. And they were all in their mid-twenties up to their early thirties. So to me, that story is moving only to a certain extent. It was after learning of certain details that I was moved very deeply. I have two friends who were part of this disastrous event and they were in the same cell. And they were allowed once a week to go out and shower, and there’s a very long line to the shower because there aren’t enough cubicles for all these guys. And one of my friends—who’s the better writer, I have to say—
Read the rest of the interview here.