My Friends

Random. Jan. 2024. 416p. ISBN 9780812994841. $28.99. F
The latest by award winner Matar (My Friends) explores the overriding theme of translation: on the surface, what is lost when literature is translated from one language to another, but also how an outsider translates himself into a culture not his own. The novel follows Khaled, a young Libyan who receives a scholarship to attend the University of Edinburgh. His classmate Mustafa persuades him to attend a protest against the Qaddafi regime at the Libyan Embassy in London. In the chaos of the demonstration, both Khaled and Mustafa are shot and wounded, setting the course for the rest of Khaled’s life. Unable to return to Libya for fear of retribution against himself or his family, he remains in limbo, incapable of committing to a long-term romantic relationship or decisive political action. Khaled’s in-between existence is contrasted against his two friends: Mustafa, with whom he is inextricably linked due to their shared past, and Hosam Zowa, a dissident writer from a prominent Benghazi family, whom he meets by chance in Paris.
VERDICT Especially in the novel’s second half, Khaled’s lack of driving force begins to feel stale, but the sense of loss of home, and eventually of friendship, is movingly rendered.
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