Sometimes there are some books I just pick up on a whim. Either it’s the cover, or the praise, or the subject, I go in blindly without knowing much about the book. One such book for me is Hisham Matar’s The Return.
I just finished The Return last night, and boy oh boy, was I left moved and emotional at the end or what?
The Return is a very personal memoir book, detailing the author’s journey back to Libya to look for his father Jaballa Matar. Hisham was born in the US, but moved to the Middle East and lived in Egypt and Libya. His father was a very vocal activist against the Qadaffi regime and was eventually arrested and jailed. Hisham and his mother and brother left the country.
30 years later, Hisham returns to Libya to seek out his father, in what becomes an adventure for him as he encounters witnesses who have claimed to see his father in jail.
In some of the more interesting parts of the book, Hisham describes his experience of returning to Libya, giving us an insight into what his hometown used to be like, and what’s it becomes now. He returns to Libya with his mother and his wife Diana.
In one particular moment, he describes how in his childhood he was able to look out the window into the garden, that had no boundary wall. Now, upon his return, when he looks out, he sees a boundary wall that stretches “to the sky.” Now, he can see the patch of blue sky when he looks up. It just goes to show how radically and drastically life has changed for Libyans who lived under an oppressive regime.
The Father-Son Bond
Central to the theme is the bonding between the son and his father. I was certainly drawn into Hisham’s journey because it is a very personal journey of a son looking for his father. In addition, Hisham also details the lives of his friends, some of whom die during the Libyan War. The lives of the ones who are left behind are all affected.
The father-son bond is a special one indeed and I saw myself rooting for Hisham to find his father. The last few chapters literally became a page-turner for me as I wanted desperately for Hisham to find his father and be reunited. It becomes all about the powerful bond of love and respect between the son and father.
Race for Time
Hisham’s call for help to seek his father gains international recognition when the ministers and lords at the British parliament take up the issue on a diplomatic level. Hisham’s visits to the Prime Minister, David Milliband, further accelerates the search for his father. Hisham also encounters Qadaffi’s son, Seif, with whom he has a rather comic and unintentionally funny experience.
The Return has to be read to be experienced. There are enough praises for this book, along with achieving the Pulitzer Prize in biography. Words such as “classic,” magnificent,” “intelligent,” and “powerful” are just some of the praises heaped on this book. I have to recommend this book and should definitely be added to your collection.