Thanks to Natalia, we have a personalized autographed copy of CHASING THE SUN to give away to one lucky reader at the end of this post (details below). Thank you, Natalia, for joining us at Great New Books and sharing one of your favorite reads with us today!
Author Natalia Sylvester, on one of her recent favorite books:
Anatomy of Disappearance by Hisham Matar
It’s rare for me to read just the first line of a book and know, in that one instant, that I have to—need to—continue. But that’s how it happened with Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar, a book that entered my life at just the right time and hasn’t left me since.
Of course, I was initially drawn to it by the title alone. Here was a book with Disappearance in the title, and here I had just received my first edit letter for Chasing the Sun, which deals with a kidnapping. I know of many writers who say they can’t read other works while they’re deep into a WIP, but I’m the opposite. I look for nourishment in other works: the taste and tones of a rich metaphor, the wholesomeness of language so beautiful you could bathe in it, the irresistible delight of a page-turning plot. By feeding off a good story I’m reminded of what I hope to accomplish.
Anatomy of a Disappearance tells the story of Nuri el-Alfi, a quiet teenager who is still mourning his mother when he and his father exile from their unnamed country to Cairo. While on vacation in Alexandria, Nuri is enchanted by a young woman he sees on the beach, an infatuation that becomes more complex as she and his father spend time together and eventually marry. “I saw her first,” Nuri recalls about Mona, who, in her mid-twenties, is older than him but much younger than his father. Matar’s depiction of Nuri’s coming-of-age and his relationship with Mona is beautifully written with life-imitating subtlety: there are times when any hints of romance seem imagined, a product of Nuri’s longing, and times when they feel clear as day.
Everything changes when Nuri’s father disappears, taken from his bed (which he was sharing with another woman), presumably by an unknown political faction. Over the years Nuri becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to his father, and ends up having to come to terms with how little he really knew him. The emptiness his father leaves behind frames everything, including Nuri’s relationship with Mona, and his ideas of love, loss, and longing.
For such an emotionally-charged narrative, though, Matar’s language is minimalist and crisp, powerful because of what it leaves unsaid. The story is beautiful in its sorrow, and when I finished it, I was reminded of why I write: because our humanity is vulnerable and sometimes tragic, but also rich in its longing for connection.
And that first line I mentioned? I didn’t even have to look it up; it’s simply carved in my memory:
“There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.”
To enter the drawing to win the personalized and autographed copy of Natalia Sylvester’s novel, CHASING THE SUN, fill out the form and click Submit below. Entries are open from Wednesday, June 4 until Friday, June 6 at midnight Eastern time.
Great New Books will email the winner and announce it here on Monday, June 9. (Entries for the Continental US only, please.) As always, thanks for helping us to spread the word about great books and thank you for joining us!
Have you read Chasing the Sun by Natalia Sylvester or Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hiram Matar? We’d love to hear what you think — please share in the comments below. Thanks!