The journey of a Libyan writer to find his father disappeared Gaddafi

Sitting by the pool in an almost empty hotel in Egypt, Hisham Matar saw an image that could not be removed from his head.

He was finishing his first novel, “Only in the world” and had escaped to the beach with five books to read. That was when he saw before him two men.

An old man in his 80s walking with a young man about 20. The young man said the old elbow, moving with much more property.

There was something about them that aroused the curiosity of Matar. Were father and son? They were perhaps the same man at different stages of your life?

There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest ”

“You know when you see something that looks ordinary, but for a moment is full of meaning, depth,” explains Kill BBC World from Mexico City, where he attended the Hay Festival Mexico.

The maelstrom of writing consumed and for a while forgot the image. Until suddenly he came to stay. And one day, from that mental picture he wrote one sentence:

“There are times when my father’s absence is as heavy as a child sitting on my chest.”

It was the beginning of his second novel, “Story of a disappearance”, the story of Nuri, a Libyan young man loses his father in adolescence, kidnapped and disappeared by the de facto regime of Iraq.

Although Matar would love to own history is understood as a fiction novel, you are aware that it is platonic think that the similarities between him and Nuri are mere coincidence.
Jaballa, disappeared when he was 19. His family knew he had been detained in Abu Salim prison, a torture center for opponents of the Gaddafi regime.

His story, like that of Nuri, has been seared by the absence. Matar’s father, Jaballa, disappeared when the author was 19 years old.

“One writes what he knows. The novels rely on the capacity of your heart. It’s based on your intellect, but also largely on your emotional world, psychological,” he explains.

“It’s like cooking, take ingredients, but the result is completely different.”

One writes what he knows. The novels rest on the ability of your heart ”

But Nuri is Hisham and “History of an absence” is not the story of his absence.
An absence that takes it all

Killing the father of a former diplomat and senior member of the opposition to Gaddafi, he disappeared in 1990, in Egypt.

By testimonies of prisoners and what the family has been able to determine with the help of international institutions such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Jaballa was moved to Libya where he was locked in the prison of Abu Salim, known as “the last stop” infamous because within its walls ended Gaddafi’s opponents.

There they were tortured. Many of them died in what is known as the slaughter of Abu Salim, 1996.

“It’s an unfinished absence that takes all. Somehow, it makes you grow very fast, but otherwise keeps you mature,” says the author.

“At age 19 you are at a turning point, if someone looking to become someone starting to build their future. And when something like this is very difficult to make the shift,” he explains.

And the debt with the teenager unable to make the turn, look to the future, was still pending.
To settle it, Killing decided a fundamental movement in his life as a writer and as a human being: to return to Libya.

It was 2012, after 33 years of exile, the Gaddafi regime had fallen and the Arab Spring in Libya gave hope winds of change.

And he needed to return to “reencantarse with the country and try to find my father.” His remains. Or at least the truth about what happened to him.

“What do you do when you can not go and can not go back?” He asks Matar in “The Return,” a story in the form of memories that came from that trip and that is about to be published.

The author was stuck at this point.

“You can write nonfiction documenting facts, but I’m not interested in documenting, but to talk about how those events affected me.”

Libya was with his wife and his mother in 2012. He spent a “very powerful” there, on the trail of his father, but also a very different country from his childhood month.

“The Libya where I grew up was very open. When I was little, and strolled along the boardwalk in Tripoli, if I show you the pictures, you would not know where it is. It could be Italy, Greece, women would dress like you,” he tells BBC World from the Hay Festival Mexico.

I feel like I became a man when I went to Libya. It was a maturing process for me ”

“The years of dictatorship closed the country. They did make people shut up in their houses, physically, but also emotionally. Today is a much more conservative society.”

Not everything, though, changed. There are things that remain the same as I remembered.
“The celebrations, the binding energy that revolves around food. People keep singing, dancing,” he says.

That and the light remain intact. That light southern Mediterranean why one seems to pass through and it is a real event, according to Matar.

“The landscape feels eternal. I felt there was a correspondence between the landscape and me.”

Matar found the fate of his father, but found something that looked a long time, from age 19: the rotation needed to start looking to the future.

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