Thursday, February 28, 2013

'Scars and Chains': Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth

In 1953, a young psychiatrist was assigned to the Blida-Joinville Psychiatric hospital in  Algeria, at that time a colony of the French. Battling a host of racial prejudices that even used scientific studies to designate Africans as little more than animals, Frantz Fanon started documenting the cases that came to him even as the Algerian war of Independence broke out. Merely seven years later, even as the young man was dying of leukemia he dictated these notes and the other observations of his in what was later to be published as
The Wretched of the Earth.

Divided into five sections (along with a conclusion), the book is a reflection of what happens during a colonial situation. The first (and the most detailed) section is on Violence and its centrality in an unjust situation. Arguing that violence is just the natives returning what they have received from their colonial masters, Fanon argues that violent means are a strategy to counter the terrorism unleashed by the Colonial powers yet the Western Press presents the people fighting for their liberation as blood-thirsty brutes while the terror unleashed by the Colonial Powers is hardly ever mentioned: In the Algerian war, even the most liberal of the French reporters never ceased to use ambiguous terms in describing our struggle. When we reproached them for this, they replied in all good faith that they were being objective. For the native, objectivity is always directed against him. (61)

Thus it could be that in 1945, the 45,000 dead at Setif could pass unnoticed; in 1947, the 90,000 dead in Madagaskarcould be the subject of a simple paragraph in the papers, in 1952, the 200,000 victims of the repression in Kenya could meet with relative indifference. (62)

As an aside let me add that apparently, this lop-sided view of reporting has not ceased till date thus in the Wiki entry about the Algerian Revolution, which I perused before writing this post, though there is a mention of the terror unleashed by both the Algerian and French forces, the section on the former has a picture attached to it. Since visual aids leave more of an impression on the mind, this can be hardly innocent.

As Jean Paul Sartre put it so tellingly in the preface to the book:
Not so very long ago, the earth numbered two thousand million inhabitants: five hundred million men, and one thousand five hundred million natives. The former had the word; the others had the use of it. (7)

Men and natives! Yes! Because colonialism took away the manhood of a people and reduced them to non-entities. Men could use the power of their pens and paint the Natives in the colours of their imagination: It must in any case be remembered that a colonized people is not only simply a dominated people. Under the German occupation, the German remained men; under the French occupation, the German remained men. In Algeria there is not simply the domination but the decision to the letter not to occupy anything more than the sum total of the land. The Algerians, the veiled-women, the palm trees and the camels make up the landscape, the natural background to the human presence of the French.

Hostile nature, obstinate and fundamentally rebellious, is in fact represented in the colonies by the bush, by mosquitoes, natives and fever, and colonization is a success when all this indocile nature has finally been tamed. Railways across the bush, the draining of swamps and a native population which is non-existent politically and economically are in fact one and the same thing. (201)

And, lets not forget, there are scientific studies to present that the African is a hardly more than an animal! Thus Professor Porot could publish a study in which he came to the conclusion that: "The Algerian has no cortex: or, more precisely, he is dominated, like the inferior vertebrates by the diencephalon. The cortical functions if they exist at all, are very feeble, and are practically unintegrated into the dynamic of existence" (qtd. pgs 243-244).

In fact it is the fifth section - from where the above mentioned quote occurs and which details the effect of violence and blood-shed on the psyche of the people - that I found most fascinating. There is the case of a rebel whose wife was raped by the French soldiers as she refused to divulge his whereabouts and the secrets of his organisation. The Algerian who was not really in love with his wife was haunted by the torture that she suffered on his behalf and his own impotency as regards the perpetrators of the crime. Then there is the case of the French girl who was filled with a hatred towards her father who used terrible methods of inquisition and torture against the young Algerian men she had once played with while growing up.

Or the chilling case of two Algerian teens who murdered their French friend in order to make the point that the French were never punished for killing Algerians.

As Sartre puts it: Our victims know us by their scars and by their chains, and it is this that makes their evidence irrefutable. It is enough that they show us what we have made of them for us to realize what we have made of ourselves. (12)

Or as  Fanon says at the end of this disturbing book: For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man. (255)


First Line: National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.

Title: The Wretched of the Earth

Original Title: Les Damnes de la Terr

Author: Frantz Fanon

Original Language: French

Translator: Constance Farrington

Publication Details: Middlesex: Penguin, 1969 [Book No. 2674]

First Published: 1961

Pages: 255

Other books read of the same author: None


Being a classic of Resistance Literature, the book can be easily purchased on the Net. I borrowed it from the college library [320.965 F 217 W].


Read for the Social Justice Theme Read hosted by Resistance is Futile.

Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Genre Variety, 2013 Translation, Books on France, The Classics, Let Me Count the Ways, Nerdy Non-Fiction, New Authors, What Countries Have I Visited

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by RoseCity Reader where one shares the opening of the book one is currently reading.

Here's mine from Frantz Fanon's classic The Wretched of the Earth.

National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's voice where on shares a snippet from page 56 of any book. Here's mine from Anthony Gilbert's The Musical Comedy Crime.

"Did he give many dinners here?"

"Not many," began Parsons, but Mrs. Jordan broke in sourly: "More than any bachelor needs to give. Women don't come to a bachelor's for food. And he knew more about cooking than any bachelor needs to know." 

Forgotten Books: The Last Musha'irah of Dehli by Mirza Farhatullah Baig

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. These words of L.P. Hartley kept resounding in my head as I went through The Last Musha’irah of Dehli, the English translation of Mirza Farhatullah Baig’s Urdu classic Dehli Ki Aakhri Shama.

It is a Delhi, I did not recognise: cultured, civilized, poetic, literary, with a charm hard to beat. Comparing it to the uncouth, savage, rude city it has become of late is…well one simply cannot compare the two.

The author, states in the preface, that he wanted to write a book in which Urdu poets of all ages would be present. Since it was difficult to present poets of all generations under one roof, he decided to concentrate on the poets in Delhi at the time of the last Mughal ruler: Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’, himself a poet of some repute. Drawing inspiration from Karim-ud-Din Maghfoot’s book Tabquat-ul-Sho’ra-e-Hind which depicted a musha’irah that had taken place in the year 1845, Baig made him the narrator of his book. 

Karim decides to organise a musha’irah (poetic symposium) in Delhi (or rather Dehli, as the city was called at that time). However the going is tough as rivalries amongst the poets, and the paltry stipend that the Emperor receives from the East India Company has robbed the grandeur of the past. Nevertheless, he tries his hardest best and is helped in this task by Navvab Arif Khan, a nephew of Mirza Ghalib. The ailing Arif who knows that his days are numbered and who wishes to witness and participate in such an august gathering before he passes away goes all out to assist Karim in organising the Musha’irah.

What follows is an evening to remember. One after the other all the great names of Urdu literature: Ustad Zauq, Mirza Ghalib, Hakim Momin, Ustad Ehsaan, and Dagh (a novice at that time but soon to join the illustrious galaxy)  present their compositions. Even as the audience (and the reader) is enraptured, the shadows gather over the Mughal Empire, a culture, a way of life. There is Nothing, Nothing, exclaims a poet, even as he unwittingly blows out the shama and makes his way out in the darkness...

First published sometime at the turn of the 20th century, this translated version of the novel was first published in the seventies. There is a detailed introduction at the beginning for those not conversant with the Ghazal form of poetry. However, the editing is shoddy at times and there are quite a few typos. They do not take away anything from the beauty of the poetry but are nevertheless shocking since the publishers (Orient BlackSwan) are those of repute.


First Line: What lust for happiness dogs our steps!
But if there were no death there would be no zest for living.

Title: The Last Musha’irah of Dehli.

Original Title: Dehli ki Akhri Shama (Dehli ka Ek Yadgaar Musha’irah)

Author: Mirza Farhatullah Baig

Translator: Akhtar Qamber

Original Language: Urdu

Publication Details: ND: Orient BlackSwan, 2010

First Published:

Pages: 177

Other Books read of the same author: None


The book can be easily purchased online. I borrowed it from DPL, opposite Old Delhi Railway Station.


Submitted for The Classics Reading Challenge

Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Translation, Historical Fiction, Let Me Count the Ways, Library Books, New Authors.


Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesdays

Every Tuesday Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where one shares the first paragraph or (2) of a book one is reading or thinking about reading soon.  

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This week round both the opening and the Teaser is from Anthony Gilbert's The Musical Comedy Crime.

Opening: For the last time that evening the weary chorus swooped on to the stage. "Like a flock of birds, you ought to be," the producer had told them - "that's the reaction you should arouse in your audience - a flock of birds." Pretty birds, indeed, thought the exhausted, underpaid chorus, joining their hands above their heads, twirling on toes encased in shoes that wouldn't bear a very close inspection, noticing drearily how tarnished the other girls' spangles were and wondering if their own were as bad, how rents had been mended in the short pink frills that stood out - like a flower, of course, that was the producer again from their tired bodies. (7)

Teaser: That explained, too, those payments of large sums in bank-notes from people who perhaps wouldn't care to put their signatures to cheques to be paid into his account. Women, possibly, who weren't going to take any risk of their husbands learning what they did with their money. (163)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader in which one shares the opening of a book while  The Friday 56 is a meme hosted by Freda's Voice where one shares a couple of sentences from page 56 of any book.

Today both my entries are from The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell.

Here's the opening:

I, Birgitta Roslin, do solemnly declare that I shall endeavour to the best of my knowledge and in accordance with my conscience to pass judgement without fear or favour, be the accused rich or poor, and according to the law and statues ofSweden; never to pervert the law nor to promote wrongdoing on grounds of family connections, friendship, jealousy, malevolence, or fear, nor in response to bribes or gifts or for any other reason of no matter what nature; never to impute guilt where there is innocence, nor innocence where there is guilt.

And on page 56:

My family, Birgitta thought. Big worries but a lot of pleasure. Without it, most of my life would hve been wasted.

Forgotten Books: Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout

I had heard of Rex Stout but had not realised how popular Nero Wolfe was before I started blogging. Last year then I read my first Wolfe: The Mother Hunt. I loved Archie's narrative skills but wasn't too enamoured of Wolfe's detection or the plot. Fellow mystery enthusiast, Rishi Arora @ Classic Mystery Hunt, then suggested that I read Some Buried Caesar.

Some Buried Caesar begins on a sunny September day. A day full of surprises. The car which is being driven by Archie and carrying Wolfe and his precious orchids, rams into a tree. Archie insists that the car burst a tyre while Wolfe is happy because the accident proves his theory that vehicles have a will of their own, that their apparent submission to control is illusory and that they may at their pleasure, and sooner or later will, act on whim (3)

 Wolfe and Archie then walk towards a farmhouse to ask for help. As they enter, Archie sees a man waving a shotgun at them. Before they can really understand what the man is trying to do, a huge bull is upon them. What follows is a surreal scene that has a raging bull, a-running-for-his (and Wolfe's)-life- Archie, a fence, a blob of red, a spectacular jump, some applause, and a still-as-statue Wolfe atop a rock.

The upshot of this incident is that Wolfe and Archie find themselves in the house of Tom Pratt who owns the bull and who later invites them to a barbecue in which the bull's meat will be served. But the bull is no ordinary bull, it is Hickory Caesar Grindon, a Guernsey, a grandson of Burleigh's Audacious, has taken nine grands, has fifty one A R daughters, and Nine A R sons. His daughters too have done him proud, twelve of them having topped 13,000 pounds of milk and 700 pounds of butter fat.

No wonder with such accomplishments and lineage, the National Guernsey League is hoping mad at the idea of the master-champion being fed as dead meat. Also mad at Pratt are the Osgoods, a neighbouring family which considers itself the uncrowned kings of the place and Pratt as nothing but an upstart. The young scion, Clyde Osgood challenges Pratt that he wouldn't be able to make a beef steak of Caesar and bets $10,000 on it. Pratt accepts the challenge and asks Wolfe to stay on and help him guard his prized bull. That night, even as Archie, guards the pasture with the bull in it, and has another guest of Pratt's, Lily Rowan, for company, Clyde Osgood is gored to death by Caesar.

Only his father insists that his son was murdered and enlists Wolfe's help in nabbing the killer.


The novel first appeared in abridged form in The American Magazine (December 1938), under the title "The Red Bull." It was first published in book form, under the title Some Buried Caesar by Farrar & Rinehart in 1939 and is the sixth book in the Nero Wolfe series.

It was again published as The Red Bull as a Dell Mapback in 1945, and featured a scene-of-the crime map by Gerald Gregg on the back-cover.

The wiki-entry also informs me that Lily Rowan - who has a tendency to peel Archie like a mango and ask for a kiss every two sentences - and who goes on to become the love-interest of Archie appears for the first time in this novel.

Lily Rowan sat on the grass holding her nose. I had a notion to stop and tell her with a sneer that it was only a pose to show how sensitive and feminine she was...

Lily held her hands out. "Help me up."

I grabbed hold, gave a healthy jerk, and she popped up and landed flat against me; and I enclosed her with both arms and planted a through one with medium duration, on her mouth, and let her go.

"Well," she said, with her eyes shining. "You cad." 

"Don't count on that as a precedent," I warned her. "I'm overwrought. I may never feel like that again. I'm sore as the devil and had to relieve the tension somehow. May I use your telephone? Mr. Pratt's telephone."

"Go climb a tree," she said, and got her arms through mine, and we went to the house that way, though it is a form of intimacy I don't care for, since I have a tendency to fight shy of bonds. Nor did I respond to the melting quality that seemed to be creeping into her tone, but kept strictly to persiflage. (92).

Quite a couple!

The title which I always thought was a little awkwardly constructed is actually from Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat:

I sometimes think that never grows so red the rose as where some buried Caesar bled.

I guess that just this one line makes the book worth a read.


First Line: THAT sunny September day was full of surprises.

Title: Some Buried Caesar

Author: Rex Stout

Series: Nero Wolfe # 6

Publication Details: Bombay: WM. A Collins, 1944

First Published: 1939

Pages: 168

Trivia: Mystery book sellers voted the book as one of the top 100 favorite mystery books of the 20th century

Other books read of the same author: The Mother Hunt


The book can be purchased easily. I borrowed it from the H.M. Library [F.S.B 57B]

Submitted for the Vintage Mystery Challenge: Somebody Else's Crime (Rishi's review of the book for last year's challenge can be read over here.)


Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, Let Me Count the Ways, Library Books.


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays and Tuesday Intros

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here's mine from a novel just finished:

You should stop squirming and struggling. Finding yourself confronted by an unpleasant're like a woman who conceals a stain on a table-cover by putting an ash-tray. Ineffectual, because someone is sure to move the ash-tray. (64)

First Chapter-First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Bibliophile By the Sea where we share the first paragraph of our current read.

Here's mine:

Above all, I have a score to settle. I forget nothing, forgive no one.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

2013: The First Books Bought

Today is the last day of the World Book Fair at Delhi. I could visit the fair only for a couple of hours but I did make my first book purchases of 2013.

Here are the books (in the order I bought them):

Next on the list is Kithe Gaya Mera Shehar Lahore by Som Anand. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find its jacket's image anywhere on the Net. I'll see if I am able to scan it.

Have you read these books? Which one will you recommend heartily?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader where one shares the opening lines of the book one is currently reading.

Here's mine:

That sunny September day was full of surprises.

The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice in which one shares a couple of sentences from page 56 of any book.

Here's mine from a book, I have just finished:

What lust for life and happiness dogs our steps!
But if there were no death there would be no zest for living.

Forgotten Books: The Body on the Beam by Anthony Gilbert

Halfway through Anthony Gilbert's The Body on the Beam, I thought that the law of averages had finally caught up with me. After two brilliant books and one pretty good, it was inevitable that the next one fail to live up to its expectations.

View album

Unlike the earlier three, in this book the emphasis is more on leg-work. The body of a young woman is found hanging in one of the rooms of an unsavoury quarter of London or as Gilbert so quaintly commenting on the character of the locality puts it:  It is fortunate the lighting is so defective; otherwise it might be surprising to discover the identity of some of its occupants at a comparatively late hour of the evening.(7)

The dead girl turns out to be one Florence Penny and it is left to Inspector Field to unravel the girl's past. Not an easy thing considering most of the young women who end up in Menzies Street are often rootless. As Field thinks bitterly at one point why the uninitiated supposed a detective's life to be one of excitement and colour. This tedious round of examination and cross-examination, of fitting a case together detail by tiny detail, the perpetual necessity for eliminating the superfluous, the long suspense, the disappointment and the weariness of motive, all these at times were irksome to a degree. (54)

And irksome to a degree, this novel is. Then Field zeroes in one Charles Hobart, a Cambridge graduate who had married Florence and than had separated from her. As Hobart wants to marry another girl, he had the motive for killing Florence. The police have soon made their arrest. However, the girl whom Hobart had decided to marry is none other than Lucy Egerton, the sister of Scott Egerton, the Liberal politician- detective of Gilbert's and the hero of some ten-odd books before Arthur Crook erupted on the scene. Scott hires the services of detective Gordon and his men to prove Hobart's innocence. More leg-work and  much plodding later, Gordon feels that he has another suspect in sight, Walter Sharpe, an old lover of Florence. But Sharpe wasn't even in town on the day of the murder so how could he be there in Lucy's room. The novel then enters the territory of Freeman Wills Crofts, goings and comings of trains are duly noted down, distances and time calculated.

Okay, I thought wearily, can we have Sharpe proved guilty, have the marriage of Lucy and Hobart, and have everyone live happily ever after. And then the tempo of the book changed! And how!! It was as if I was reading another book. An indescribable menace entered the narrative: He had not raised his voice nor changed his position, but it was as if, with that question, a charge of electricity shot through the room; all the suppressed vitality of the man leaped into his expression. Not one that heard him but started and quivered as the reflex of that passion touched him. (251)

I'll not rate the book as high as the others but it is definitely better than many other mysteries.

Incidentally, the book, dedicated to one Una states:



Here is a murder well within your scope,
Love -treachery-mysterious pearls -forged letter,
A body dangling on a knotted rope -
Since crime must be, the bloodier the better.

Does anyone know who this Una is?


The cover image at the top is courtesy Curt Evans @ The Passing Tramp, who graciously scanned the cover of the first edition of the book and sent it to me. Thanks Curt.

Curt has also written two interesting posts about Anthony Gilbert recently. You can view them over here & here.


First Line: During the spring of last year the police were greatly perplexed by a violent death occurring at No. 39 Menzies Street.

Title: The Body on the Beam

Author: Anthony Gilbert

Publication Details: London: Collins, 1932

First Published: 1932

Pages: 255

Other Books read of the same author: The Clock in the Hatbox, Death Knocks Three Times, Lady-Killer

New Words/ Phrases/ People:

Ermine: heraldic fur representing the winter coat of the stoat (white with a black tail).

Demi-Mondaines: a woman supported by a wealthy lover
:                           a woman of the demimonde a : a class of women on the fringes of respectable society supported by wealthy lovers; also : their world
b : the world of prostitution
: a distinct circle or world that is often an isolated part of a larger world

Astarte: Greek name of a goddess known throughout the Eastern Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to Classical times. It is one of a number of names associated with the chief goddess or female deity.

Porphry: a variety of igneous rock consisting of large-grained crystals

Neurasthenia: a psychological disorder marked especially by easy fatigability and often by lack of motivation, feelings of inadequacy, and psychosomatic symptoms:

Marguerites: (among others) daisy-like flowering plants widely sold for garden use

Veronica: also called Speedwell, is a carefree and easy-to-grow perennial with long spikes of small petals in purple, blue, pink, or white

Gluyas Williams: American Cartoonist

Billet:Lodging for troops.
b. A written order directing that such lodging be provided.
2. A position of employment; a job.
3. Archaic A short letter; a note.

That's all my eye and Betty Martin:  something is total and complete nonsense. It is found in British English from the eighteenth century on, but is hardly known today

Sou: a type of food pastry

Vituperation: Bitter and abusive language

Duenna:An older woman acting as a governess and companion in charge of girls, esp. in a Spanish family; a chaperon.

Kybosh:  that which puts a stop to anything. sort of like the phrase "to shoot down"
: anyone who exceeds in the art of repression.
: a curse
: someone avoided by people.
: a prison
: mental block.

Cachou: Throat lozenge, a breath freshner

Homburg: a formal felt hat characterized by a single dent running down the center of the crown (called a "gutter crown")

Hazing: the practice of rituals and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group

Vamoosed: Depart hurriedly

Ju-jitsu: A martial art form

Soignee: Polished and well-groomed; elegant and refined


The book might be available in libraries. I borrowed it from a library myself.  [F.G.A 17]


Submitted for the British Books Challenge

Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, 2013 Women, Let Me Count the Ways, Library Books, Vintage Mystery

Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Reading challenge 26: Books on France 2013

Since, I have already finished one challenge this year, it's time to sign-up for another one. :)

This year, I plan to read more of translated works, so am signing-up for the Books on France 2013 Reading Challenge hosted by Words and Peace. The challenge involves reading books either written in French or related to France in some way.

Signing-up for the first level: [LEVEL 1, “un peu” = 3 books].

If you too want to participate in the challenge, do so over here.

Reading Events in February and March

Through Tracy K @ Bitter Tea and Mystery, and Adam @ RoofBeamReader, I have come to know of two exciting reading events that I am signing up for.

In the month of February, the Social Justice Theme Read hosted @ Resistance is Futile, in which I'll be reading books related to social injustice all over the world.

In the month of March, I'll be reading Modernist Literature for A Modern March hosted @ A Literary Odyssey. 

Both are month long events and if you too want to sign up for them, follow the links above.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Arriving into Absence: Hisham Matar's Anatomy of a Disappearance

"When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers."

Only Oscar Wilde could have come up with something so bleak and so subversive. And so true, as Nuri el- Alfi, would have added in writer Hisham Matar's poignant bildungsroman Anatomy of a Disappearance.

Living in Cairo, young Nuri, finds himself unable to fully comprehend his parents. His mother seems to have a well of unhappiness within her and dwells in silence. His father, a political exile from an unnamed state (Libya? Iran?), seems uncomfortable in the boy's presence. The only person with whom he can share his     happiness and sorrows is the maid, Naima. And then his mother passes away, just like that. Unable to forgive his father for his mother's death, Nuri's life becomes all the more empty.

Then the twelve year old boy's eyes fall on Mona, a young woman sitting in her bright yellow swimsuit by the pool of a hotel in Magda Marina. Even as Nuri experiences a rush of emotions he is hard put to define, Mona grows close to his father, eventually marrying him. Full of conflicted feelings regarding his step-mother and hating his father first for filling his mother's space so quickly and secondly for marrying a woman whom he had seen first, Nuri grows all the more embittered when his father packs him off to a boarding school in England.

Raging hormones get transformed into the Oedipal urge as Nuri wishes that his father just disappears so that he can be alone with Mona. And then his prayers are granted. The father just disappears from his life one fine day. And young Nuri realises what it is to live with an absence that crates a vacuum never to be filled.

The book with its poetic poignancy reminded me of Graham Greene's The Quiet American where too a prayer answered goes horribly wrong. What renders the story even more poignant is the biographical detail of the author whose father too was kidnapped one day by the agents of Libya's late leader, Muammar Qaddafi.

Also, I loved the writer's way of describing things:

When I was in my room, surrounded by the smell of my aunts, I wept. (55)

The world had to be sliced into hours to fill. otherwise you could go mad with loneliness. (160)

I wanted to walk over to her table, but I was gripped by the conviction that any action I might take would cause the moment and its possibilities to vanish. (195)

How did we end up in this place, I wondered, where he was pretending to tolerate my illusions ? (213)

Everything I loved and all of what was lost was once here. And now I was arriving into absence, after everyone had gone. (227)

He looked more circumspect, but the eager envy had gone from his eyes. No doubt, one by one, he had let go of his expectations. (230)

I am looking forward to reading the author's first book: In the Country of Men.


Opening Lines: There are times when my father's absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest. Other times I can barely recall the exact features of his face and must bring out the photographs I keep in an old envelope in the drawer of my bedside table.

Title: Anatomy of a Disappearance

Author: Hisham Matar

Publication Details: London: Viking, 2011

First Published: 2011

Pages: 247

Other Books read of the same author: None

New Words :

Bilharzia (Scistosomiasis): Parasitic disease caused by parasites that live in fresh water and which damages the internal organs.

Cairene: Relating to Cairo or its inhabitants.

Chiffonier: A narrow high chest of drawers or bureau, often with a mirror attached.

Galabia (Djellaba): A long loose garment with full sleeves and a hood

Molokhia: Leafy green vegetable similar to spinach.

Other books with similar themes

The Quiet American

Birds of Paradise



Is he really the son of Kamal Pasha? The book hinges on that but somehow I cannot see the father forcing (?) himself on a young girl. I don't know but the last appearance of Abdu send warning bells ringing. Not only did I feel he was somehow involved with the kidnapping but that he might well have been the father though evrybody might have (including Naima and Kamal) thought of Kamal as the father. It is very far-fetched but I just can't get it out of my mind.


The book is easy to purchase. I borrowed it from a library [823 M413A].


Submitted for What Countries Have I Visited 2013 challenge.

Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Genre Variety, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, European Reading, Let Me Count the Ways, Library Books, New Authors,

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Beginnings and Friday 56

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader in which you share the first sentence of the book that you are currently reading.

Here's mine from Anthony Gilbert's The Body on the Beam:

During the spring of last year the police were greatly perplexed by a violent death occurring at No. 39 Menzies Street.

In Friday 56 hosted by Freda'sVoice, we share a couple of sentences from Page 56 of any book.

Here's mine from Hisham Matar's Anatomy of a Disappearance:

Our apartment struggled to resume its original character. Naima moved soundlessly, cleaning the indifferent surfaces, preparing our joyless meals.