Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between, by Hisham Matar

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Novelist Hisham Matar's memoir about his father, a political prisoner kidnapped in 1990 but presumed murdered, is harrowing yet courageously dignified.

Hisham Matar was born to Libyan parents. His father, Jaballa Matar, was a resistance member to Muammar Qaddafi's brutal dictatorship. The family lived in exile, but Jaballa was kidnapped in 1990 and imprisoned in Qaddafi's notorious Abu Salim prison. Hisham Matar never saw his father again.

The Return, a memoir, is part detective story and part agonising anatomy of one man's grief. Every page is full with sadness and suffering. The book really takes you under the writer's skin. It talks not only of one man's tragedy, the of the many who opposed Qaddafi and paid the terrible price. Hisham Matar had many family members, especially cousins, who were political prisoners, held in dire conditions for up to twenty years. For example, each prison cell had a loudspeaker that played political propaganda everyday, from 6am to 12pm, at an unbearably loud volume.

Hisham Matar has spent most of his life living in England, his adopted country, where he works as a writer and novelist. You would think England would offer a degree of safety, but Matar often felt unsafe, especially as the government of Tony Blair improved relations with Qaddafi's regime. Some of the book's strangest and almost unbelievable sections are when Matar makes contact with Qaddafi's son, Seif el-Islam, trying to get information on the fate of his father. (Seif el-Islam claims Tony Blair as a friend and has been hosted by the royal family at Buckingham Palace).

This is a deeply moving memoir about lives that are ruined forever by totalitarian politics.

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between, by Hisham Matar. Published by Viking. ISBN 9780241966280 RRP: $24.99

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