Acclaimed writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Hisham Matar’s The Return explores the circumstances around the disappearance of his father (and subsequent attempts to secure his release). Jaballa Matar was an opponent of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was seized while living in exile in Egypt, and held in an unknown location in Libya. Hisham was nineteen years old and studying in England at the time. He never saw his father again.
Matar provides readers with a history of Gaddafi’s ascent to power in Libya, along with an account of living under the dictator and a subsequent life in exile. There is not a book about politics though; it is a meditation on hope, grief, family, and the love of a son for a father.
no matter how hard we try we can never entirely know our fathers
Despite many discouraging (and infuriating) attempts to learn the fate of his father through help from the British government and those with ties to the Gaddafi regime, Matar and his family persist following one setback after another. After the fall of Gaddafi, Matar, along with his wife and mother, return to Libya to try to discover the truth about his father’s fate.
Matar’s narrative is gripping and moving and he writes beautifully of the bonds between fathers and sons: “To be a man is to be part of this chain of gratitude and remembering, of blame and forgetting, of surrender and rebellion, until a son’s gaze is made so wounded and keen that, on looking back, he sees nothing but shadows. With every passing day the father journeys further into his night, deeper into the fog…. no matter how hard we try we can never entirely know our fathers.”
This is a book for those who, nevertheless, keep trying.