Hisham Matar’s extraordinary memoir is the story of his search for his father and the return to a homeland he never thought he’d see again. Hisham was nineteen when his father was kidnapped and taken to prison in Libya. He would never see him again. Twenty-two years later, after the fall of Gaddafi, Hisham was finally able to return to his homeland for the first time.
We follow Matar on what is a very intimate journey, returning to Libya and as he remembers the life he had there, friendships with cousins, family and what is now lost for ever. His love for Libya is overwhelming, his pride for his homeland painful at times. The book is an attempt to understand his relationship with his father and why his father behaved as his did under the Gadhafi regime. It’s the not knowing that is crushing, he writes at one point that he envy’s the finality of funerals.
As I read The Return I could not help thinking of the orphaned and lost refugee children of today that may never find their parents again after making it to Europe. For their story this memoir is a glimpse into the future and a situation they may find themselves in, twenty years from now.
I really enjoyed the structure of the book rather than writing it year by year, stories are interwoven as we float back and forth between the present and the past, between New York, London, Cario and Libya. He has wonderful descriptions of the English landscape upon leaving Paddington when he arrives in Britain for the first time at ten years old. There are heart-breaking parts as he comes to terms with his father’s disappearance and when he discovers his father’s published stories.
The Return is at once a universal and an intensely personal tale of loss. It is an exquisite meditation on history, politics and art.