Why isn’t Hisham Matar angrier? In 1990, when he was a student in London, his father – a Libyan dissident living in Cairo – was kidnapped, taken back to Tripoli, imprisoned, tortured. He smuggled several letters out from Abu Saleem jail detailing his treatment, but there has been no word since 1995. The not-knowing must be hideous – so how to square that with this charming, engaging, patient young man?
Matar, whose first novel is being touted as the literary event of the summer, suggests meeting in Holland Park, on the western fringe of central London. No doubt this is a way of keeping me out of the rented flat he shares with his American-born photographer wife, but it’s appropriate, too. He often walks here in the morning before writing. “I find it calming,” he explains. “There’s always a problem when you write, something you’re trying to resolve, and sometimes a view can be inspiring.”