Hisham Matar

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Hisham Matar (born 1970) is a Libyan writer currently living in the United Kingdom, whose debut novel In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize.


  • …I enjoyed the fact that I had a destination, and so the picture I was looking at became like an encounter with someone who told you certain things on that day that they hadn’t on the day before. It is a habit that remains with me. Sometimes I spend a couple of months looking at one picture in a gallery, sometimes a year.
  • …Since I was a boy I attended English schools. For this reason my English tends to be better than my Arabic. This is the practical reason behind my writing in English. That is not to say that it is "natural," as you call it, to write in English. In fact what interests me about my situation is how unnatural it continues to be. It never ceases to unsettle me that I am operating in a language my grandparents would have not understood.
  • …Justice is educative, justice is apolitical, justice resists nothing, for it is the normative state, may even go as far as saying that justice is, in the Aristotelian sense, aesthetic. Therefore what preoccupies me in my work is the art itself. It is a question of fidelity: I refuse for my work to serve anything or anyone but itself; more precisely, the work refuses, and I obey.

Blue Metropolis Festival (2013)


Hisham Matar in interview with Paul Kennedy of CBC Radio 1, April 26, 2013, broadcast as "Return to Tripoli", CBC Radio 1 on May 14, 2013.

  • Premeditated details arrive, when you're writing, and my instinct is always to reach for the nearest weapon.
    • at 37:50.
  • I noticed that my problems occur when I try to dominate the text, when I try to ask it to be something, or to ask it to fit into some sort of structure, or when I ask it to compliment my ego, or all of these things. That's really where all my problems start from. Where it's going very well, is where I have sort of surrendered to it, you know, where I am behind the text, and I am watching, like a dancer who's following another dancer, and just watching where it might go next. All I want to be is, I want to be as ready and as available as possible for it. That seems to me all I really need to do.
    • at 42:00.
  • I think of novelists that I really return to and admire, you can almost sense that the book is somehow ahead of them, just a little bit ahead of them, no? You could write from the front: you could pull the book; there are masters that do that, and you can admire the architecture of it. […] I suppose what I look for as a reader is a writer who's risky, who's putting themselves in a position that's vulnerable, where the text knows a little bit more, is a bit ahead of them. And so I aspire to write those books, and that's why I suppose I put myself in that position.
    • at 43:30.
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