My Friends by Hisham Matar

As this year draws to a close, My Friends by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hisham Matar is a book I’m urging all readers to add to their lists. It’s among my top reads of 2023, and one of the best books I’ve come across in recent memory. Matar’s narrative is luminous, eloquent, and truly unforgettable.

In March 1980, a young Benghazi-born boy named Khaled hears a bizarre short story on the radio that changes the course of his life. The story is read in place of the news by a legendary broadcaster and journalist who is soon after assassinated.

Khaled is captivated by the story, and its author, Hosam Zowa, and three years later, leaves Benghazi to study in Edinburgh. There he meets a boy named Mustafa, who encourages him to attend a demonstration against the Qaddafi regime in front of the Libyan embassy in London. 

The outcome at the protest for both students is severe, and Khaled is soon living in exile and unable to leave England. On phone calls and in letters home to his mother, father, and sister, he’s guarded and unable to tell of the events that unfolded in London as he fears for their safety.

A decade later, Khaled is staying at a hotel when by chance, he comes face to face with Hosam Zowa, the author of that short story he heard broadcast when he was just fourteen. Both living in exile, affected by war, and separated from their families, Khaled and Hosam are pulled together into a deep and lasting friendship.

Mustafa and Hosam soon return to Libya, where they are reunited by war, meanwhile their closest friend remains in London, dreaming of the one day he will return to his beloved country.

My Friends is a book about friendship, love, grief, and the devastating consequences of a country at war. I'm looking forward to reading more of Matar’s work and have no doubt I will be returning to this one which now has a permanent home on my shelf.

Photo by Diana Matar

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 Guardian First Book Award, and won numerous international prizes, including the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and a Commonwealth First Book Award. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was published to great acclaim in 2011.

His prize-winning memoir, The Return, was published in 2016 and was the recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Jean Stein Award, the Prix du Livre Etranger Inter & Le Journal du Dimanche, the Rathbones Folio Prize, The Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize and Germany’s Geschwister Scholl Prize. 

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Comparative Literature, Asia & Middle East Cultures, and English at Barnard College, Columbia University.

My Friends is on sale January 9th in hardcover and e-book formats. Check or Penguin Random House Canada to pre-order.