Hisham Matar’s second novel (following the Man Booker Prize shortlisted In the Country of Men) is a Polo mint of a book: the hole in the middle gives shape to everything that surrounds it. An elegy for an absent parent, it is also the lament of an orphaned son denied the chance to outgrow his father. What it is not is an anatomy, a word that suggests the cool scientific objectivity required for a dissection. Despite the elegantly distilled prose – there is hardly a word out of place – Anatomy of a Disappearance is alive with barely suppressed feeling.
The story begins in early 1970s Egypt. Following the death of his mother, twelve-year-old Nuri is on holiday at a beach resort. No sooner has he arrived than he encounters 25-year-old Mona, a vision in a yellow swimsuit whose Anglo-Egyptian heritage adds to her exoticism. Nuri develops an