Anatomy of a Disappearance
A Novel by Hisham Matar
Audiobook read by Steve West
2012 / 224 Pages
Listening Time: 5:36:23
Hisham Matar’s 2011 novel introduces readers to a young Egyptian boy named Nuri. When Nuri was very young, his mother died unexpectedly and he has been raised by his father and a slew of servants. Nuri’s father is some sort of politician or diplomat (his role is never very clearly explained), and therefore the young boy leads a privileged but sorrowful life. With his mother gone and his father always abroad or dealing with some sort of serious political situation, Nuri is left longing for companionship, comfort, and security. But about a year after his mother’s death, Nuri meets 26 year-old Mona by a hotel pool in Alexandria. Stricken by her beauty and gentleness, he forms a bond with Mona, and soon, Mona marries Nuri’s father and takes on the role of doting step-mother.
But despite the state of their new family, Nuri is perplexed by a strong sexual attraction to his step-mother, and things get even more complicated when his father is kidnapped and disappears under mysterious circumstances. With his father gone and his heart broken, Nuri turns to Mona for comfort, which soon evolves into a complex touch and go sexual relationship. But as the years pass and his father never resurfaces, Nuri must face the facts that his father led a life of many secrets and mysteries that may never come to light.
As Nuri grows to be a man, he constantly reflects on the secret life his father led and wonders if he will ever return. But despite the mysteries and questions posed in the novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance is ultimately unsatisfying. While Matar’s descriptive abilities as a writer are impeccable, the character development is sadly lacking. Nuri is presented as a delicate and grieving boy who is desperate to solve the enigma of his father’s disappearance, but in reality, he is too afraid to really uncover the truth. In fact, every time Nuri uncovers a new fact about his father’s life or disappearance, he basically shuts down and refuses to react. His relationship with Mona dissolves over the years, which leaves Nuri with even more unanswered questions, guilt, and shame.
While the ending presents a slight twist in Nuri’s story, he never really changes or responds to these new truths. Instead, Nuri remains an emotionally stunted boy who takes no action in regards to his future or past. It’s all rather frustrating and disappointing. Anatomy of a Disappearance could have been something great, but the lack of character development and the slow pacing is ultimately a letdown.