For a brief time, Gadhafi was seen as a liberator, and he inspired hope in people in all arenas — from business to art. But Matar says that quite suddenly shattered, in one terrible moment.
"In one year [Gadhafi] imprisoned a huge number of writers," Matar tells Renee Montagne on Morning Edition. "The revolutionary committee set up a sort of big literary festival, if you like, and then they just captured all the writers, they tortured them, and they put them in prison and that generation of writers spent minimum 10 years in prison."
The festival was a sort of trap to round up the writers and then imprison them all at once. Matar also remembers that Gadhafi sent army trucks to bookshops, and soldiers had a list of books the regime deemed inappropriate. The books were gathered up and burned.
Writers have been problematic for the regime for a long time, Matar says, but he doesn't think that's a unique situation.
"Dictatorship by its essence is interested in one narrative, [an] intolerant narrative, and writers are interested in a multiplicity of narratives and conflicting empathies and what it would be like to be the other, to imagine what the other is thinking and feeling," Matar says. "And that sort of completely unsettles the dictatorial project."