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The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  8,554 ratings  ·  1,015 reviews
From Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Hisham Matar, a memoir of his journey home to his native Libya in search of answers to his father's disappearance. In 2012, after the overthrow of Qaddafi, the acclaimed novelist Hisham Matar journeys to his native Libya after an absence of thirty years.     

When he was twelve, Matar and his family went
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 5th 2016 by Knopf Canada (first published June 30th 2016)
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  8,554 ratings  ·  1,015 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Jul 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
In the United States, I first heard of the overthrow of Qaddafi on our nightly news, just pieces here and there, atrocities committed by the regime just lightly touched on. So this book was very eye opening to me, the details were anguishing to read. First book I have read about Libya, or even set in Libya.
The author's father was a very successful businessman, quite wealthy and against the Qaddafi regime, he put his money into the overthrow of this corrupt and abusive government as he and extend
There are several reasons to choose this book:

-beautiful prose.
-thoughtful, philosophical content about a son's relationship to an absent father.
-a memoir that illustrates how political events shape the lives of a nation's people.
-details about life under the Libyan dictator Qaddafi.

Themes are smoothly and thoughtfully interwoven. This is not merely a book about historical events. It is not only one man's, the author's, struggle to come to terms with the uncertainty of his father's death and h
aPriL does feral sometimes
Hisham Matar’s revered Father, businessman and wealthy ex-Libyan Jaballa Matar, was a financier hero of several mysterious and failed Libya liberation movements fighting against the alpha male dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Muammer Qaddafi had engineered a coup in Libya in 1969 overthrowing Libya’s monarch, and he soon began a campaign of torture and terror to kill any possible political competition.

Very male author Hisham Matar, the respected masculine writer of this award-winning very masculine-ge
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 21-ce, memoir, uk
Astonishing! Great narrative propulsion. One hurtles along. The fight to take Libya back from Qaddafi in 2011 is an exhilarating piece of writing. As a portrait of a family in exile it reminds me of André Aciman’s Out of Egypt: A Memoir. It also evokes another book touching on the themes of exile, a novel, V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival. ...more
Sleepless Dreamer
Wow, this is quite a book. 

Hisham Matar was born in Libya but due to his father's political activism, spent much of his life in Egypt and  London. One day, his father abruptly gets kidnapped by the Libyan government. What follows is years of uncertainty, never really knowing if he's alive or where he is. When Gaddafi fell, Matar and his family returned to Libya, hoping to find more clues about his father's whereabouts. 

This book is very lyrical. It's not told linearly but rather, through associa
Connie G
Mar 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
After over thirty years in exile, Hisham Matar returned to Libya in his long quest to find out what happened to his father, Jaballa Matar. His father was a resistance leader during the time when Muammar Qaddafi was Libya's totalitarian leader. The Matar family was living in exile in Cairo when Jaballa was kidnapped in 1990, and thrown in the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. Except for three letters smuggled out of the prison, his family never heard from Jaballa again. He may have perished in the mas ...more
Jan 27, 2017 rated it liked it

I tried people! I tried so damn hard, but…

Hisham Matar’s family is from Libya, but Matar grew up in Egypt, because his father was an opponent of the Qaddafi regime. If you don’t know anything about the Qaddafi regime here’s a buzzword: Benghazi.

Qaddafi imprisoned dissidents, or had them assassinated. Many of his opponents lived abroad, but that did not deter Qaddafi! He happily sent assassins all over the world to murder his adversaries.

An example from the book: Matar’s brother Ziad, while at sc


Description: In 2012, after the overthrow of Qaddafi, the acclaimed novelist Hisham Matar journeys to his native Libya after an absence of thirty years. When he was twelve, Matar and his family went into political exile. Eight years later Matar's father, a former diplomat and military man turned brave political dissident, was kidnapped from the streets of Cairo by the Libyan government and is believed to have been held in the regime's most notorious prison. Now, the prisons are empty and little
Aug 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Deeply moving, this is quite possibly the best book I've read so far this year!

In this memoir, Matar writes of his personal experience of the Libyan revolution, it's history, and the disastrous effects complete power can have on a nation. He writes of his family's time in exile, of grief and of loss, with an underlying note of hope throughout. Exquisitely written, this book deserves a lot more credit.

It may hurt your heart a little, but I think we all need that from time to time.

Straight to t
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
I'm the odd one out here, I guess. 50 + pages in, and I still find this book boring, and the writing far from natural. Better luck to others ...more
Atty. Winston Pagador
Aug 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow, this book hooked me from the start and glued me to every page! Eloquently written and deeply felt, The Return by Hisham Matar is a haunting memoir about a son investigating the fate of his missing father under Qaddafi's reign in Libya. Hisham endeavors also to convey the modern history of Libya, what it was like to live under a brutal dictatorship and how the dissidents were inhumanely treated. This is a story of a terribly unimaginable deeds, but also a tale of oozing hope and indomitable ...more
Mikey B.
Feb 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is about prisoners in the jails of Libya during the long Qaddafi dictatorship. It is also, as in the author’s case, about those who quest forlornly, using any fragment of information, on those imprisoned. The author’s father, a resistance fighter against Qaddafi, was abducted on the streets of Cairo by Egypt’s secret police. From there he was sent to Libya and essentially disappeared in the morass of the Libyan prison system. This happened in 1990 when the author was 19 years old. Understan ...more
Peter Boyle
One of my favourite TV shows at the moment is The Leftovers. On an ordinary October day in 2011, two percent of world's population vanishes simultaneously, without trace. The plot focuses not on the mystery of the disappearance but on the deep anguish of the people left behind. It is the uncertainty surrounding the departure that hurts the most - those that remain cannot know for sure if their missing loved ones are dead or alive. They are forever denied a sense of closure - they don't even have ...more
Judith E
Since 1979, author Matar and his family have been displaced from their Libyan ancestral home because of the Qaddafi dictatorship. His displacement and disorientation is reflected in this account of his father’s imprisonment and disappearance in Libya’s infamous Abu Salim prison as a political prisoner. His writing about these events is sometimes murky and unsettled and understandably he belabors the impact of grief upon losing his father. By the time of the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime, it wa ...more
This is a wonderful book. Read it and be a part of humanity.
In 1969 a coup d'état took place in a North African country. The Free Officers Movement, a revolutionary group headed by a 27-year-old army officer called Muammar Qaddafi, disposed King Idris, Libya’s monarch. So began a 42 year reign of terror by the iron grip of Qaddafi and his family and supporters, where anyone who dared oppose the regime would be removed and imprisoned. Hisham Matar was born in the United States as his father was working there at the time with the Libyan delegation to the U ...more
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A sad story but didn't work for me. After reading about this book I thought I absolutely had to read it. While studying at university in London, author Matar's father is kidnapped. Matar never sees his father again (this is not a spoiler as it's on the flap and was noted in several book previews). Yet the author hopes that his father might very well be alive, despite the horrors of the Gaddafi's regime. The book is the story of his journey and his search.
The book was a struggle. I really wanted
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This memoir is the long, sad story of a 19-year-old Libyan boy (the author, Hisham Matar) who learns his father has been kidnapped and imprisoned as an opposition leader by Qaddafi. Finding out what became of his father becomes Hisham's lifelong purpose, and it's all detailed in this book.

In addition to tales of the family clan and the search, Hisham gives a little history of Libya which, I daresay, many no little about. For instance, I learned that the Italians who occupied Libya as colonial op
Fatimah  Elfeitori
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thoughtful, emotional, philosophical and highly relatable. I cannot recommend this book enough!
Hisham Matar put into words my unexplained sense of 'belonging' and (over)romanticization of Benghazi, and Libya.

"My silent condemnation of those fellow exiles who wished to assimilate- which is to say, my bloody-minded commitment to rootlessness- was my feeble act of fidelity to the old country, or maybe not even to Libya but to the young boy I was when we left."

"Revolutions have their momentu
Leila Soltani
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Living in a dictatorship, you would ask yourself how it’s possible that dictator regimes are this much similar...
After I finished the book this Persian poem came to my mind:
imprisoned bird, may you live and see that promising day that there is no cage in the world.
ای مرغ گرفتار بمانی و ببینی، آن روز همایون که به عالم قفسی نیست
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book with my phone sitting next to me. I learnt quite a bit of Libyan history as I read about Matar's quest to find out what happened to his father Jaballa Matar once he was kidnapped from his Cairo flat and imprisoned in the notorious Abu Salim prison by Gaddafi. After two and a half decades and numerous attempts to locate him Hisham Matar still does not know. A difficult read yet a compelling one. ...more
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hisham Matar is a novelist of Libyan extraction--"extraction" being a word here that is especially appropriate, since various members of the Matar family spent time fleeing Gaddafi's goons. At times unsuccessfully, alas. In particular, Hisham's father was handed over to Gaddafi's goons by Hosni Mubarak's goons. "The Return" is an account of Hisham's search for his father, or to at least find out what happened to him. Hisham's prose fluid, thoughtful, but never self-indulgent. The focus here is o ...more
Jean Borg
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read Hisham Matar's previous two books last Summer, in anticipation to his reading at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. 'In the Country of Men' become my read of last year.

I had high expectations and it's one of the few books I ordered before the actual publishing date in these past few years, and the hardback and its beautiful cover was a joy to hold.

It starts rather slowly, since the writer does not have the freedom as when writing fiction, but then he seems to get true to his mo
An incredibly vulnerable and a heartbreaking memoir that will stay with me forever.
Jul 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I strongly recommend this moving account of a man coming to terms with his father's disappearance under the brutal Gaddafi regime in Libya.

Hisham Matar and his brother were born into a wealthy Libyan family and were both educated overseas. Their father, Jaballah Matar, was a prominent figure in Libyan political life and was an outspoken detractor of Gaddafi’s. In 1979 the family fled to Cairo, fearing for their safety. Despite this evasive measure and the family’s vigilance, in 1989, when Hisha
Settare (on hiatus)
This was a thought-provoking, important, beautiful and sad read. I read this over the course of a month, each week talking about it in a discussion session, so I really lived with this book and the modern history of Libya.
Before reading this, I didn't know much about Libya. I knew that there was a dictator called Gaddafi, who was overthrown and killed during the Arab Spring revolution in Libya, and I didn't even exactly remember which year. (it was 2011.) I vaguely knew from the news that the r
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Best book I have read in a long time. Disconnect, belonging, contradiction, displacement. Unsentimental and powerful.
Brendan Monroe
This is one of those books that demands a positive review because it's a true story about overcoming tragedy that is supposed to inspire — à la Man's Search for Meaning. Unfortunately, this just isn't really all that interesting.

To me anyway.

I only kept reading this one because of the subject matter — the import of it, if you will — but three-quarters in and enough is enough. This just isn't doing it for me.

I didn't know a great deal about Qaddafi's regime in Libya before reading this, other th
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
In this powerful memoir, Libyan novelist Hisham Matar describes the state of hope and grief he has endured in the two decades since his father, Jaballa, was kidnapped by Qaddafi's regime in 1990. Imprisoned and kept isolated from other prisoners, Jaballa managed to send only a handful of letters to his family before he disappeared without trace. To this day, no-one is sure what happened to him, although it is likely that he died in a massacre at Abu Salim pris
I have researched the father I never met: photos, letters, purple heart award. I corresponded with the grandson of the Croatian Freedom Fighter who returned my dad's body to the U. S. Army Air Corps. Dad was a pilot of one of the distinguished Lightning airplanes that brought destruction from the air to Germany in World War II.

Was he suited as the young husband of my mother, or as my father? "The body of my father is gone," this author writes,"but his place is here and occupied by something tha
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Hisham Matar was born in New York City, where his father was working for the Libyan delegation to the United Nations. When he was three years old, his family went back to Tripoli, Libya, where he spent his early childhood. Due to political persecutions by the Ghaddafi regime, in 1979 his father was accused of being a reactionary to the Libyan revolutionary regime and was forced to flee the country ...more

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“What do you do when you cannot leave and cannot return?” 13 likes
“My father is both dead and alive. I do not have a grammar for him. He is in the past, present and future. Even if I had held his hand, and felt it slacken, as he exhaled his last breath, I would still, I believe, every time I refer to him, pause to search for the right tense. I suspect many men who have buried their fathers feel the same. I am no different. I live, as we all live, in the aftermath.” 9 likes
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