My Friends

Hisham Matar

My Friends
Penguin Books Ltd
United Kingdom
11 January 2024

My Friends

Hisham Matar

An intensely moving novel about three friends living in political exile and the emotional homeland that deep friendships can provide - from the Booker-shortlisted, Pulitzer prize-winning author

Khaled and Mustafa meet at university in Edinburgh- two Libyan eighteen-year-olds expecting to return home after their studies. In a moment of recklessness and courage, they travel to London to join a demonstration in front of the Libyan embassy. When government officials open fire on protestors in broad daylight, both friends are wounded, and their lives forever changed.

Over the years that follow, Khaled, Mustafa and their friend Hosam, a writer, are bound together by their shared history. If friendship is a space to inhabit, theirs becomes small and inhospitable when a revolution in Libya forces them to choose between the lives they have created in London and the lives they left behind.


From the very first page, Hisham Matar’s My Friends bursts with bittersweet nostalgia for places and friendships lost, found, and changed. This timely, mournful novel spans a day as the main character Khaled walks across London, and reflects on the decades he has spent living in a city not of his birth.

My Friends is fundamentally about distance. The distance between friends grown apart and bound together by things they would rather forget; loved ones made unreachable by space, time and tyranny; and between Khaled’s two lives – his Libyan youth and London-dwelling adulthood.

Knowledge of the history of Libya, Gaddafi and the historical events described in the novel aren’t necessary to appreciate it, and I would dissuade readers from interrupting their reading with research. Allow the depth and quality of Matar’s writing to take you with him as he travels backward and forward across time, and save those Wikipedia tabs for later reading to appreciate how beautifully he renders the events.

Matar’s prose directly tackles the incongruence between trying to express the deepest, most honest parts of yourself and your history in a language that is not your mother tongue. He delivers a lilting and lyrical prose that feels meticulously precise and completely organic at the same time.

The temptation to quote any of the many breathtaking passages would, I feel, do any future reader a disservice; Matar’s language deserves the thrill of discovery, of rolling concepts, phrases, and images around in one’s mind and mouth. I will be buying this one for my mother, my best friend, and at least one old friend who I have not seen in many years, and I will not be lending my own copy, saving it instead for the re-readings that My Friends will demand of me.

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