Libyan writer Hisham Matar (pictured below) will deliver a free public lecture, examining his debut novel, on Tuesday 21 February 2017 at 5.30pm in the Medical and Biological Sciences Building of the University of St Andrews as part of a collaborative venture with The Booker Prize Foundation.
Copies of his novel, described by Professor Gregory Orfalea as “David Copperfield in Qaddafi’s Libya”, were gifted to every entrant undergraduate student joining the University last year as part of an ongoing scheme to encourage intellectual debate; and offer people across the St Andrews community an opportunity to be part of a shared conversation, engaging with the very best contemporary literary fiction.
Hisham Mater’s novel, In the Country of Men, tells the story of a nine-year-old boy in Libya, whose father’s covert anti-Qaddafi activities bring him under suspicion of treason while his unhappy mother uses alcohol to bury her feelings. The book explores the ways love can withstand situations of great repression, but also how political terror puts relationships under a strain that can be unbearable.
These are familiar themes for Hisham Matar, who was forced to leave Tripoli at the age of nine when his father’s name appeared on a list of people the regime wished to interrogate. It became too dangerous for the family to remain in Libya and they fled to Egypt but later, while Hisham was living under a false name and nationality at an English boarding school, his father was kidnapped by the Libyan secret police and taken back to the country to be imprisoned. Records of him there are limited to a few smuggled notes and the accounts of other prisoners who overheard his interrogation and torture, and listened to him reciting poetry in the stillness of the night.
The impact of this trauma can be felt in In the Country of Men, which has been translated into 26 languages; nominated for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award; and won the 2007 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize.
The visit is the eighth in an annual initiative designed to offer new students a common topic for discussion.
Launched in 2009, the St Andrews Man Booker Prize Project involves entrant undergraduate students being sent a copy of a Man Booker Prize shortlisted book, distributed by Wardens and their teams through Halls of Residence. It is hoped that the project will offer all our new students a stimulating common experience as they join the St Andrews community.
Students, staff and the public are all welcome to attend the lecture. There will be a limited supply of copies of the book for sale on the night.
For further biographical context read the New York Times review of Hisham Matar’s memoir.
The talk will be held in the lecture theatre in the Medical and Biological Sciences Building of the University of St Andrews at the North Haugh.
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