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Monday, September 17, 2007

Nouri Gana - An Interview with Hisham Matar

NG: How did you come to fiction writing? What are the major literary influences on you?

I came to fiction through poetry. Poetry paralleled my interest in music and architecture. I can not think of a time when it had not--whether, in the early years, through my family, or later--been present in some way in my life: the reading of it and the attempts, often futile, of writing it. Shortly before writing my novel the poems I was attempting to write had become more and more concerned with narrative. In the Country of Men began as one such poem. A scene that is now about forty or fifty pages into the book, where Suleiman is alone in the garden picking mulberries, was the first thing I wrote. I thought I had begun a poem about a boy in the garden, in the mythical garden, as it were, picking ripened fruit. Twelve lines, three or four weeks at the most and I will be done, I thought. The novel took five years to write.

Most of my early reading was in poetry. I continue to be intrigued by Lord Alfred Tennyson’s ability to grieve for his friend Lord Hallam for over fourteen years. Memoriam, the series of poems he wrote over that period, is a moving and curious testimony to the perennial nature of grief. Not many people read Tennyson these days. It’s a shame. He had a fabulous ear for language--and a wonderful beard. I like a good beard. It is rare these days to see a well-groomed, flamboyant beard. Tennyson’s, from what I can see through the few photographs I have seen of him, was not necessarily carefully groomed, but certainly flamboyant. Some of the other writers whose work I return to are Joseph Conrad, Ivan Turgenev and Marcel Proust.

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