From the author of In the Country of Men, a Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, comes a beautifully written, uplifting memoir of his journey home to his native Libya in search of the truth behind his father's disappearance.
When Hisham Matar was a 19-year-old university student in England, his father was kidnapped. One of the Qaddafi regime's most prominent opponents in exile, he was held in a secret prison in Libya. Hisham would never see him again. But he never gave up hope that his father might still be alive. "Hope," as he writes, "is cunning and persistent." Twenty-two years later, after the fall of Qaddafi, the prison cells were empty, and there was no sign of Jaballa Matar. Hisham returned with his mother and wife to the homeland he never thought he'd go back to again.
The Return is the story of what he found there. It is at once an exquisite meditation on history, politics, and art; a brilliant portrait of a nation and a people on the cusp of change; and a disquieting depiction of the brutal legacy of absolute power. Above all, it is a universal tale of loss and love and of one family's life. Hisham Matar asks the harrowing question: How does one go on living in the face of a loved one's uncertain fate?
“What a brilliant book. Hisham Matar has the quality all historians - of the world and the self - most need: He knows how to stand back and let the past speak. In chronicling his quest for his father, his manner is fastidious, even detached, but his anger is raw and unreconciled; through his narrative art he bodies out the shape of loss and gives a universality to his very particular experience of desolation.” (Hilary Mantel)
“The Return is a riveting book about love and hope, but it is also a moving meditation on grief and loss. It draws a memorable portrait of a family in exile and manages also to explore the politics of Libya with subtlety and steely intelligence. It is a quest for the truth in a dark time, constructed with a novelist's skill, written in tones that are both precise and passionate. It is likely to become a classic.” (Colm Tóibín)
“A triumph of art over tyranny, structurally thrilling, intensely moving, The Return is a treasure for the ages.” (Peter Carey)
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A meditation on love and loss
Very much at the top!
I don't read very many memoirs because I find they hold my attention less so than great fiction. But this one gripped me from the very first page and kept me riveted to the page till the very end.
This is the first time I have listened to Matar and I found his reading truly remarkable. His distinctive accent, I suppose a mix of English and Arabic, coupled with the slow, measured pace of the delivery made the listening experience a rapturous one. Matar recounts how his father used to recite poetry at social gatherings, and later when he was captive in prison. The author has clearly inherited his father's gift.
There were so many. Here is one from the beginning. When Matar went to boarding school in England, he went under a false name and a false background, as a Christian Egyptian. There he befriends a Libyan Muslim: it is only at the end of their schooling that he confesses his true identity to his friend.
The language here is so lovely, akin to reading poetry. And Matar gave me insights on how to observe art.
- D. Christopher D'Guerra