Cover Image: My Friends

My Friends

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A stunning new voice in literary fiction. Highly recommended, but the cover doesn’t seem to best sell the book in my opinion..

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Walking home from the train station where he has just bid his good friend farewell, Khaled reminisces on the many twists and turns his life has taken in the last few decades. He recalls the time, back home in Benghazi, when he heard a bizarre short story read aloud on the radio. This might possibly be the moment his life was launched on its current trajectory, first pursuing an education in literature and eventually meeting the author himself. Khaled traces his life across miles, through violence, under dictatorships, and between ties of family and friends.

Author Hisham Matar has beautifully crafted the story of Khaled’s life, blending it with historical context culminating in the uprisings known as the Arab Spring. Relationships, particularly friendships are at the heart of this novel. Matar’s writing feels profound yet uncomplicated, beautiful but supremely real.

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I began to lose track of time while reading this book. It would always take me by surprise when I'd raise my head and realize I am not actually in London nor am I Libyan, this is not actually happening to me. The prose is gentle, almost a lull, and builds this story beautifully. Highly recommend to every litfic reader.

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My Friends
By Hisham Matar

This is the story of three Libyan young men who are sent from Qaddafi's Libya to the UK for their education. Two of them – Mustafa and Khaled – meet while studying in Edinburgh. Mustafa is the more adventurous of the two, while Khaled is cautious.

In 1984 there was a massive protest rally at the Libyan embassy in London over the Libyan government's treatment of its citizens. Embassy personal opened fire on the protestors, killing a police woman and injuring eleven protestors. In this novel, Mustafa and Khaled were both injured, Khaled the most severely. The third man, Hosam, was a writer critical of the regime. Both Mustafa and Khaled admire his work. It is only years later that we find out that he was also present at that protest.

All three became persona non grata in their homeland and attempted to reconcile themselves to life in the UK. But being expats not by choice eats away at all three in different ways according to their personalities. Being forced to leave all you knew and loved behind can do damage to the soul.

Fast forward to the Arab Spring of 2011. The governments of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya begin to crumble and the three now middle-aged men must decide on their course of action with regard to their homeland.

This is a heart-wrenching book. Due to personal circumstances, I was able to relate to the torments these young men lived with – but I believe anyone with a heart would have to feel moved by tis story.

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When Khalid is 14, he and his family listen to a story on the radio of a cat devouring it's owner. I'm not sure what the significance of this story was, but Khalid remembered it throughout his life.
A few years later, he leaves Libya for the UK where he attends the University of Edinburgh and develops a friendship with Mustafa. The two are pulled into a protest against the Qaddafi regime at the Libyan Embassy in London where they are critically shot and hospitalized. After discharge, the two part ways, although they are not permitted to return to the University. Eventually, they become involved in the Libyan civil war.
This is the story of relationships within the background of political events. The writing is beautifully descriptive, although at times overdone. The author hones in on the agony and internal struggles of the friendship. in the men as they mature.
I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. The opinions expressed are my own.

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A deeply moving and thought-provoking read that stays with you long after you've turned the last page.

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I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House for providing me with an advance e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review. Look for it now in your local and online bookstores and libraries.

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My Friends is poetic, emotional, and just absolutely stunning. It portrays so well the heartache of leaving home for better opportunities. Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for providing me with this eARC.

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Wonderful story, great character development, great writing! Highly recommend this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it

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Thank you for the opportunity to read a review copy. Unfortunately, the story wasn't a good fit for me. I had trouble following the plot and characters and decided to DNF at 20%. Reading other reviews, I am clearly an outlier, so this must be a case of "it's not you, it's me."

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A powerful novel with themes of exile, friendship, politics and the place of literature in politics. As a teenager in Libya, Khaled hears a story on a radio broadcast from London. He cannot forget the story and hopes to someday meet the author. In 1983 Khaled travels to Edinburgh to begin studying literature at university. There he meets Mustafa, another teenage student from Libya. Mustafa convinces him to travel to London and attend a protest at the Libyan Embassy. Shots are fired from within the Embassy and both young men are wounded and young female police officer is killed. This actually occurred in April 1984. While in hospital, a book of stories is published in Arabic by the mysterious young author that Khaled has hoped to meet. After they recover, The young men must go into hiding and remain in exile. The boys slowly rebuild their lives. Khaled becomes a teacher.. when a close friend is ill and Khaled travels to Paris to be with her, he realizes that the man at the reception desk in the hotel is Hosam, the author, also hiding and in exile. Hosam moves to London where the three young men maintain a close friendship. As Arab Spring takes hold in Egypt, Tunisia and then Libya, there lives change once again.

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With beautiful poignant prose the author weaves a stunning tale of longing, loss and life in exile. I was totally captivated by this novel. I've never read anything from the perspective of a North African man from Libya before and this was so eye opening for me. The reflective nature of the story was like talking with a best friend sitting by the fire after a great meal. Part historical fiction and part fictional memoir this one will grab hold of you and not let go until the final sentence. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

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This is not a book I would have picked up even two or three years ago. But my worldview has broadened deeply and with it, my desire to read more books set outside my own little world. This book was fantastic. It is part history book and part cultural education but mostly it is a book about how the horrors of war, especially under a dictator like Qaddafi, can change one not even directly involved for a lifetime.

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Hisham Matar is a masterful writer. His prose is stunning in its lyricism and strident in its power to describe small but important moments. I absolutely loved the dissection of three points of view on exile and as an immigrant myself who never went back to the country she was born, I most identified with Khaled. The one missing piece for me is that I never got a clear picture of the thesis of the whole thing. Other than documenting the plight of three different men I didn’t get the unifying point. Nevertheless I enjoyed the journey even if I was a touch dissatisfied with the ending.

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4,5

There is something melancholic in Hisham Matar's meditative writing that touches me deeply. In part it's his calming voice - I really recommend the audiobook read by the author. It makes me accept sentences I would normally dismiss as saccharine or overly dramatic.

But mostly this is a beautiful novel about a naive and sensitive young Libyan student who ends up an exile in London due to an unfortunate turn of events related to the real life shooting spree at the Libyan embassy in 1984.

So far I had only read Matar's non-fiction and I was curious to see if he could evoke the same deep sense of loss and compassion in a novel. The answer is yes.

It is not cheerful, but very highly recommended if you are in need of something absorbing and heartfelt read.

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First, thanks to NetGalley and Random House for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. I must say that this was slow going for me at first. I just wasn't grabbed by the initial chapters, but Matar's absolutely gorgeous prose kept me reading. I'd let the book sit for a day or two sometimes longer, but kept returning to it until and a third of the way, so give this book some time! You'll see what I mean if you read it. A major life-changing event happens and everything begins to fall together to make the book more engaging. At least for me.

I do recall the Arab Spring that is the time period for the latter part of the book, but I don't remember ever hearing about the horrific events at the Libyan Embassy in London that form/tranform/totally change the narrator's life. The cover makes perfect sense--he is completely shattered. I'm not one for book summaries--you can read them in other reviews. I appreciated the glimpse into another culture--in Libya and in London as well. Matar write with such sensitivity and insight in creating these characters that their concerns, fears, joys became mine as well.

I think I've set a new record for highlighting passages in my book, but as it was an uncorrected copy, I'll not share them. Just know that there are jewels of wisdom and insight into the human condition, friendships, family, patriotism, loyalty, and so much more.

Like one of the other reviewers, the second I finished the book, I turned back to the beginning and understood why the author chose to present his story in this way.

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A powerful, impactful and gripping story following the journey of our main character during an excruciating horrible time period in our history. Told in first person it read like a deeply personal journal, which to me added to the heart wrenching meaning of the story.
A young man leaves his family to start a new life and what happens to him is devastating and hauntingly beautiful. His struggles with keeping secrets for the sake of protecting his family and friends was gut wrenching!
For me it was an eye opening emotional story about the tragedy that some of us are going through and so little we know about it.
I struggled with this story, the inner monologue and going back and forth past and present made the pace of the story difficult to follow. It was such an emotional story to go through and what they did to survive with grace and dignity.

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Having absolutely loved The Return, I was eager to read Matar's latest novel and it did not disappoint. It is a rare treat to read an exquisitely written literary work that is both captivating in its prose, plot, and character development. There was never a moment where I felt bored, even though the storyline itself progresses at a slow, comfortable pace.

I had no previous knowledge of the shooting at the Libyan embassy in the 1980s in London and was fascinated by learning this new bit of history and the effect it would have had on Libyan ex-pats who were demonstrating against the regime. The trust that Khaled develops in his relationships with his friends is universal to all cultures and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how those friendships flourished and reflected back on my own relationships.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves great literary works and a bit of historical fiction.

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House, and Hisham Matar for an advanced reader's copy in exchange for an honest review.

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This is the third Hisham Matar I’ve read and I cannot recommend more highly that readers give his books a try. Matar is an amazing writer - the beauty of his language, the deep and connected relationships, and intensity of emotion are so well conveyed in My Friends. The longing and conflicted push and pull that those who leave their countries experience is with them every step of the way, however long ago they may have left their families and friends. The added conflict of taking a stand against a dictator regime in a home country, while living a life miles away from the turmoil is an anguished and tough decision to make. Khaled grows up in Benghazi in Libya, amid the turmoil of political upheaval and gets the opportunity to study in the U.K. Two different and close friendships are formed that will last a lifetime. As these friendships deepen over the years, they also create in Khaled anguish and conflict as he struggles to fight for his home country and make decisions that will impact not only him but his family back home. Historical fiction at its best, this is an intense and engrossing novel that will linger with you for a long time. Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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I was so excited to read this one, but the writing really let it down for me. It felt oddly formal and distanced in a way that made it very hard to feel close to the main character. I think in theory this is the perfect story for me, but the execution was a big obstacle in my enjoyment of the book.

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