‘I exist mostly to one side of time. Only in rare moments – for example, when I am with those I love or in times of great exuberance or when I am writing and the work is going well – do I feel in time, that I am where I am meant to be and utterly free from the wish to be anywhere else. The other times have the interference of discord, as though I were detained and that somewhere nearby, possibly in the next street, there is a desired encounter or event taking place, one from which, whether by coincidence or ignorance or bad luck, I am being excluded. The strange thing was that I never suffered this in Siena. Every day and for the entire month I spent there I felt myself to be in time. I woke up at the right moment and left the flat just at the perfect instant so as to encounter everything that unfurled before me. I never rushed or felt myself hurried by anything. Everything I experienced was happening at the pace at which it ought to happen.’

– Hisham Matar, A Month in Siena

‘Perhaps learning a new language is a reminder of when we were unable to say anything at all, when we did not have the means to communicate that we were hungry or cold or simply bewildered, and some of that distress must remain and is enlivened by occasions of inarticulacy. But it must also be my own specific experience of having been obliged to immigrate, at the age of eleven, from my mother tongue, Arabic, to English. And if you have done such a move once, any further disruption can come to represent a mortal danger.’

– Hisham Matar, A Month in Siena

‘If I stop and think of the people closest to me, of where they might be at this exact moment, what they might be up to, how they might be feeling, what might be preoccupying their thoughts, the weight of their concerns, I become incapable of doing anything else. It is a truly debilitating state. It fills me with immeasurable anxiety, sorrow and longing. I have never understood why the basic fact of the lives of those with whom I am intimate running concurrently and separately from mine must fill me with such darkness.’

– Hisham Matar, A Month in Siena

‘Implicit in the act of creation is praise, of discovering and naming the world, of acknowledging it, of saying it exists. The French artist Henri Cartier-Bresson had once described taking a photograph as saying ‘yes’, not the ‘yes’ of approval but that of acknowledgment.’

– Hisham Matar, A Month in Siena