Photo by Diana Matar ©
When Hisham Matar was a nineteen-year-old university student in England, his father went missing under mysterious circumstances. Matar would never see him again, but he never gave up hope that his father might still be alive. Twenty-two years later, he returned to his native Libya in search of the truth behind his father’s disappearance. His 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, is the story of what he found there.
The Pulitzer Prize citation hailed The Return as “a first-person elegy for home and father.” Transforming his personal quest for answers into a brilliantly told universal tale of hope and resilience, Matar has given us an unforgettable work with a powerful human question at its core: How does one go on living in the face of unthinkable loss?
Born in New York City to Libyan parents, Hisham Matar spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo and has lived most of his adult life in London. His debut novel, In the Country of Men, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and won numerous international prizes, including the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, a Commonwealth First Book Award, the Premio Flaiano and the Premio Gregor von Rezzori. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, published in 2011, was named one of the best books of the year by The Guardian and the Chicago Tribune. His first memoir, The Return, was one of The New York Times Book Review’s ten best books of the year, winner of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
After finishing The Return, Matar, seeking solace and pleasure, traveled to Siena, Italy. Always finding comfort and clarity in great art, Matar immersed himself in eight significant works from the Sienese School of painting, which flourished from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Artists whom he had admired throughout his life, such as Duccio and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, evoke earlier engagements he has had with works by Caravaggio and Poussin, and the personal experiences that surrounded those moments. A Month in Siena is about what occurred between Matar, those paintings, and the city. That month would be an extraordinary period in Matar’s life: an exploration of how art can console and disturb in equal measure, as well as an intimate encounter with the city and its inhabitants.