The Return by Hisham Matar

Much as life in Lanark and dear old Blighty is unsatisfactory we do not fear being snatched away to a detention centre and tortured because the government does not share our opinions. There are, of course, plenty of regimes in this world where that is the case.

In 1990, Jaballa Matar, an exiled Lybian dissident was snatched from his Cairo flat by the Egyptian secret service. Handed over to Libyan agents at Cairo airport and flown by private jet to Libya, he was soon in Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim prison.

Hisham Matar was a 19-year-old student in London at the time of his father’s abduction. Unable to return to Libya during the Gaddafi regime, the first opportunity to seek his father came in 2011. The Return is his account of that trip. It blends national history with family anecdotes, memories with documents. The dislocation in narrative structure is deliberately given to show the pain of exile and broken families.

Matar still does not know what happened to his father, but the evidence strongly suggests that he was murdered during a prison massacre in 1996. The bodies of the victims were initially buried in mass graves, but were later exhumed, ground up and poured into the sea. The situation in Libya is again bleak. Warring militias and the theocratic mercenaries of ISIL are battling for control. The Libyan newspapers that flourished in the Spring of 2012 are gone and the targeted assassination of foreign journalists means few risk reporting on what is happening. Once again Libya’s story is at risk of going untold.

Hisham Matar has done his best to tell the truth about his beloved country. This poignant, heartbreaking and beautifully expressed memoir is one of the best books to have been published in 2016.

288 pages in Viking

First published 2016

ISBN  978-0670923335

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Hisham Matar

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