Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times - The Washington Post - The Guardian - Financial Times When Hisham Matar was a nineteen-year-old university student in England, his father went missing under mysterious circumstances. Read more...
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times - The Washington Post - The Guardian - Financial Times When Hisham Matar was a nineteen-year-old university student in England, his father went missing under mysterious circumstances. Hisham would never see him again, but he never gave up hope that his father might still be alive. Twenty-two years later, he returned to his native Libya in search of the truth behind his father's disappearance. The Return is the story of what he found there. The Pulitzer Prize citation hailed The Return as "a first-person elegy for home and father." Transforming his personal quest for answers into a brilliantly told universal tale of hope and resilience, Matar has given us an unforgettable work with a powerful human question at its core: How does one go on living in the face of unthinkable loss? Praise for The Return "A tale of mighty love, loyalty and courage. It simply must be read."--The Spectator (U.K.) "Wise and agonizing and thrilling to read."--Zadie Smith " An] eloquent memoir . . . at once a suspenseful detective story about a writer investigating his father's fate . . . and a son's efforts to come to terms with his father's ghost, who has haunted more than half his life by his absence."--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times "This outstanding book . . . roves back and forth in time with a freedom that conceals the intricate precision of its art."--The Wall Street Journal "Truly remarkable . . . a book with a profound faith in the consolations of storytelling . . . a testament to Matar's] father, his family and his country."--The Daily Telegraph (U.K.) "The Return is a riveting book about love and hope, but it is also a moving meditation on grief and loss. . . . Likely to become a classic."--Colm Toibin "Matar's evocative writing and his early traumas call to mind Vladimir Nabokov."--The Washington Post "Utterly riveting."--The Boston Globe "A moving, unflinching memoir of a family torn apart."--Kazuo Ishiguro, The Guardian "Beautiful . . . The Return, for all the questions it cannot answer, leaves a deep emotional imprint."--Newsday "A masterful memoir, a searing meditation on loss, exile, grief, guilt, belonging, and above all, family. It is, as well, a study of the shaping--and breaking--of the bonds between fathers and sons. . . . This is writing of the highest quality."--The Sunday Times (U.K.)
Libyan life and exile
In The Return, Libyan novelist Hisham Matar (In the Country of Men) tells the harrowing story of his search for his father, Jaballa Matar. Early in Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, Jaballa served as a U.N. diplomat, but he was soon accused of criticizing Qaddafi and forced to flee to Cairo with his family. In 1990, while Matar was at university in London, Jaballa was kidnapped by Egyptian secret police and sent to Abu Salim prison in Tripoli.
Matar’s narrative roams through time, moving from his 2012 visit to see family in Tripoli and Benghazi after Qaddafi’s downfall (Matar’s first visit in 33 years), to the distant past—when his grandfather fought against the brutal Italian occupation of Libya. He recounts his efforts to gather scraps of information, meeting with former prisoners who might have seen Jaballa.
At times, the memoir reads like a spy novel: In the 1980s, Qaddafi’s spies kept tabs not only on Jaballa but also on family members, following Matar’s brother when he was at boarding school. Decades later, Matar connected with Qaddafi’s “reformist” son Seif, who’d promised him an answer about what had happened to Jaballa. Seif put Matar through a series of phone calls and clandestine meetings in London hotels, mixing threats and compliments, meetings that ultimately proved fruitless.
The Return beautifully chronicles the vagaries of life as an exile and the grief of wondering about a father’s suffering. Yes, Matar’s memoir is sometimes bleak in describing the Qaddafi regime’s decades of bizarre repressive actions. But it also offers a portrait of a loving family and a needed window into Libya, not only its troubles but also its beauty, and the many kindnesses Matar encountered there.