On Sunday the New York Times published reviews of the two best new fiction books I’ve read in 2011: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar. (Although the translation of Murakami’s 1Q84 is still to be published.)
The Art of Fielding is a good but not great novel (a lot of the buzz has to do with the fact that Harbach got a $650,000 advance for his first novel). A hefty, sprawling book of 512 pages, the book somehow retains an intimate, compact feel, centering around a literal handful of characters.
If you have a free weekend – it took me most of two days to read it – and a soft spot for college novels this is a book for you.
Less than half the size of Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, the Anatomy of a Disappearance is an amazing book. Beautifully written, in many ways it is a shame that the US publication of the book took place as Ghaddafi’s regime was crumbling instead of keeping pace with the European and international release dates. (I read a copy months ago in Cairo, and have been begging people to read it since then.) This, of course, would have made this possibly unfair line in Robert Worth’s review unnecessary: “In a sense, “Anatomy of a Disappearance” suffers the disadvantage of being upstaged by reality”
The Anatomy of a Disappearance isn’t a guide to the horrors of Qaddafi’s Libya, although they are certainly part of the novel. But if that is the only you reason you pick it up, you will likely be disappointed. The book is much more than that. And thankfully that means that when Qaddafi’s regime is finally finished people will still be able to read Matar’s second, and so far greatest novel.
I played hookey from class back in 2006 to read Matar’s first book, In the Country of Men, and while that book was decent, this one is in a different class. Elegant and subtle and a wonderful story. Read it.