The Wheeler Centre
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Hisham Matar with Hilary Harper
‘One day justice will be done and the jailer will replace the jailed.’ Hisham Matar’s father wrote these words in a smuggled letter to his family in 1992, while imprisoned in one of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s notorious jails in Tripoli.
Jaballa Matar was a political dissident, kidnapped in 1990 by the dictator’s agents, and jailed. For years he wrote occasional letters to his family – but then the letters stopped. In the decades since, his London-based son, a writer, has worked to find out what happened to his father; to learn if he is dead or alive.
Matar’s latest book, The Return, describes this hideous quest with exquisite skill and sorrow. In April, it won a Pulitzer Prize. His previous books, the Booker-shortlisted novel In the Country of Men and Anatomy of a Disappearance, dealt with similar themes, winning praise from the likes of J.M. Coetzee.
‘You make a man disappear to silence him but also to narrow the minds of those left behind, to pervert their soul and limit their imagination,’ Matar writes in The Return. It’s a story of exile, absence and appalling suspense told with rare gentleness and restraint.
In this episode of the Wheeler Centre podcast, this extraordinary writer makes his second visit to the Wheeler Centre to discuss his life, career and the art of recollection with Hilary Harper.
Hisham Matar was born in New York City to Libyan parents and spent his childhood first in Tripoli and then in Cairo. His first novel, In the Country of Men, was published in 2006 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, The Guardian First Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award in the US. The Return, his latest work of non-fiction, won a Pulitzer Prize for biography or autobiography.
Hilary Harper has a degree in English Literature and Cultural Studies, a Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing, and 30 years’ experience in radio. She’s been at the ABC since 2005. She’s covered everything from news and current affairs to traffic reporting, arts, health, gardening, science, finance, education, relationships, parenting, and much discussion of food.