One evening, as a young boy growing up in Benghazi, Khaled hears a bizarre short story read aloud on the radio, about a man being eaten alive by a cat, and has the sense that his life has been changed forever. Obsessed by the power of those words—and by their enigmatic author, Hosam Zowa--Khaled eventually embarks on a journey that will take him far from home, to pursue a life of the mind at the University of Edinburgh. There, thrust into an open society that is miles away from the world he knew in Libya, Khaled begins to change. He attends a protest against the Qaddafi regime in London, only to watch it explode into tragedy. In a flash, Khaled finds himself injured, clinging to life, unable to leave Britain, much less return to the country of his birth. To even tell his mother and father back home what he has done, on tapped phone lines, would expose them to danger.
Meditative ... It’s gratifying to see this thoughtful writer take all the time he needs to wrestle until daybreak with the mysterious angel of his disquieted conscience ... Matar writes with cool solemnity in phrases that are often epigraphic but never contrived ... Sorrowful as this novel often is, it’s not a Shakespearean tragedy nor an elegy.
Amid this refined climate of melancholy acceptance arrives the unexpected revolutionary fervor of the Arab Spring of the early 2010s, whose tensions and excitements My Friends captures as well as any novel I have read ... Matar weighs these complexities with tremendous sensitivity, and My Friends is not only indispensable for a full understanding of Libyan émigrés but is, more generally, a great novel of exile.
Ambitious and poignant ... The prose is more supple than in Matar’s previous novels, allowing the narration to slide, like adult consciousness, between decades and eras, between appreciation and resignation ... A masterly literary meditation on his lifelong themes. For those who already know his work, the effect is amplified tenfold. In the dark house Matar continues to explore, the rooms are full of echoes: The further in you go, the louder they get.