Hisham Matar was born in New York City. He spent his childhood in America with his Libyan parents while his father was working for the Libyan delegation to the United Nations. When he was three years old, his family went back to Tripoli, Libya, where he spent his early childhood. Due to political persecutions by the Gaddafi regime, in 1979 his father was accused of being a reactionary to the Libyan revolutionary regime and was forced to flee the country with his family. They lived in exile in Egypt where Hisham and his brother completed their schooling in Cairo. In 1986 he moved to London, United Kingdom, where he continued his studies and received a degree in architecture. In 1990, while he was still in London, his father, a political dissident, was kidnapped in Cairo. He has been reported missing ever since. However, in 1996, the family received two letters with his father's handwriting stating that he was kidnapped by the Egyptian secret police, handed over to the Libyan regime, and imprisoned in the notorious Abu-Salim prison in the heart of Tripoli. Since that date, there has been no more information about his father's whereabouts.
Hisham Matar began writing poetry and experimented in theatre. He began writing his first novel In the Country of Men in early 2000. In the autumn of 2005, the publishers Penguin International signed a two-book deal with him, and the novel was a huge success.