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The Return (Pulitzer Prize Winner)
Cover of The Return (Pulitzer Prize Winner)
The Return (Pulitzer Prize Winner)
Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between
Borrow Borrow
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE The acclaimed memoir about fathers and sons, a legacy of loss, and, ultimately, healing—one of The New York Times Book Review’s ten best books of the year, winner of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
When Hisham Matar was a nineteen-year-old university student in England, his father went missing under mysterious circumstances. Hisham would never see him again, but he never gave up hope that his father might still be alive. Twenty-two years later, he returned to his native Libya in search of the truth behind his father’s disappearance. The Return is the story of what he found there.
The Pulitzer Prize citation hailed The Return as “a first-person elegy for home and father.” Transforming his personal quest for answers into a brilliantly told universal tale of hope and resilience, Matar has given us an unforgettable work with a powerful human question at its core: How does one go on living in the face of unthinkable loss?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY 

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Guardian • Financial Times
“A tale of mighty love, loyalty and courage. It simply must be read.”The Spectator (U.K.)
“Wise and agonizing and thrilling to read.”—Zadie Smith
“[An] eloquent memoir . . . at once a suspenseful detective story about a writer investigating his father’s fate . . . and a son’s efforts to come to terms with his father’s ghost, who has haunted more than half his life by his absence.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“This outstanding book . . . roves back and forth in time with a freedom that conceals the intricate precision of its art.”The Wall Street Journal
“Truly remarkable . . . a book with a profound faith in the consolations of storytelling . . . a testament to [Matar’s] father, his family and his country.”The Daily Telegraph (U.K.)
The Return is a riveting book about love and hope, but it is also a moving meditation on grief and loss. . . . Likely to become a classic.”—Colm Tóibín
“Matar’s evocative writing and his early traumas call to mind Vladimir Nabokov.”—The Washington Post
“Utterly riveting.”The Boston Globe
“A moving, unflinching memoir of a family torn apart.”—Kazuo Ishiguro, The Guardian
“Beautiful . . . The Return, for all the questions it cannot answer, leaves a deep emotional imprint.”Newsday
“A masterful memoir, a searing meditation on loss, exile, grief, guilt, belonging, and above all, family. It is, as well, a study of the shaping—and breaking—of the bonds between fathers and sons. . . . This is writing of the highest quality.”The Sunday Times (U.K.)
WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE The acclaimed memoir about fathers and sons, a legacy of loss, and, ultimately, healing—one of The New York Times Book Review’s ten best books of the year, winner of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
When Hisham Matar was a nineteen-year-old university student in England, his father went missing under mysterious circumstances. Hisham would never see him again, but he never gave up hope that his father might still be alive. Twenty-two years later, he returned to his native Libya in search of the truth behind his father’s disappearance. The Return is the story of what he found there.
The Pulitzer Prize citation hailed The Return as “a first-person elegy for home and father.” Transforming his personal quest for answers into a brilliantly told universal tale of hope and resilience, Matar has given us an unforgettable work with a powerful human question at its core: How does one go on living in the face of unthinkable loss?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY 

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Guardian • Financial Times
“A tale of mighty love, loyalty and courage. It simply must be read.”The Spectator (U.K.)
“Wise and agonizing and thrilling to read.”—Zadie Smith
“[An] eloquent memoir . . . at once a suspenseful detective story about a writer investigating his father’s fate . . . and a son’s efforts to come to terms with his father’s ghost, who has haunted more than half his life by his absence.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“This outstanding book . . . roves back and forth in time with a freedom that conceals the intricate precision of its art.”The Wall Street Journal
“Truly remarkable . . . a book with a profound faith in the consolations of storytelling . . . a testament to [Matar’s] father, his family and his country.”The Daily Telegraph (U.K.)
The Return is a riveting book about love and hope, but it is also a moving meditation on grief and loss. . . . Likely to become a classic.”—Colm Tóibín
“Matar’s evocative writing and his early traumas call to mind Vladimir Nabokov.”—The Washington Post
“Utterly riveting.”The Boston Globe
“A moving, unflinching memoir of a family torn apart.”—Kazuo Ishiguro, The Guardian
“Beautiful . . . The Return, for all the questions it cannot answer, leaves a deep emotional imprint.”Newsday
“A masterful memoir, a searing meditation on loss, exile, grief, guilt, belonging, and above all, family. It is, as well, a study of the shaping—and breaking—of the bonds between fathers and sons. . . . This is writing of the highest quality.”The Sunday Times (U.K.)
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Excerpts-
  • From the book 1. Trapdoor

    Early morning, March 2012. My mother, my wife Diana and I were sitting in a row of seats that were bolted to the tiled floor of a lounge in Cairo International Airport. Flight 835 for Benghazi, a voice announced, was due to depart on time. Every now and then, my mother glanced anxiously at me. Diana, too, seemed concerned. She placed a hand on my arm and smiled. I should get up and walk around, I told myself. But my body remained rigid. I had never felt more capable of stillness.

    The terminal was nearly empty. There was only one man sitting opposite us. He was overweight, weary-­looking, possibly in his mid-­fifties. There was something in the way he sat—­the locked hands on the lap, the left tilt of the torso—­that signaled resignation. Was he Egyptian or Libyan? Was he on a visit to the neighboring country or going home after the revolution? Had he been for or against Qaddafi? Perhaps he was one of those undecided ones who held their reservations close to their chest?

    The voice of the announcer returned. It was time to board. I found myself standing at the front of the queue, Diana beside me. She had, on more than one occasion, taken me to the town where she was born, in northern California. I know the plants and the color of the light and the distances where she grew up. Now I was, finally, taking her to my land. She had packed the Hasselblad and the Leica, her two favorite cameras, and a hundred rolls of film. Diana works with great fidelity. Once she gets hold of a thread, she will follow it until the end. Knowing this excited and worried me. I am reluctant to give Libya any more than it has already taken.

    Mother was pacing by the windows that looked onto the runway, speaking on her mobile phone. People—­mostly men—­began to fill the terminal. Diana and I were now standing at the head of a long queue. It bent behind us like a river. I pretended I had forgotten something and pulled her to one side. Returning after all these years was a bad idea, I suddenly thought. My family had left in 1979, thirty-­three years earlier. This was the chasm that divided the man from the eight-­year-­old boy I was then. The plane was going to cross that gulf. Surely such journeys were reckless. This one could rob me of a skill that I have worked hard to cultivate: how to live away from places and people I love. Joseph Brodsky was right. So were Nabokov and Conrad. They were artists who never returned. Each had tried, in his own way, to cure himself of his country. What you have left behind has dissolved. Return and you will face the absence or the defacement of what you treasured. But Dmitri Shostakovich and Boris Pasternak and Naguib Mahfouz were also right: never leave the homeland. Leave and your connections to the source will be severed. You will be like a dead trunk, hard and hollow.

    What do you do when you cannot leave and cannot return?

    ***

    Back in October 2011, I had considered never returning to Libya. I was in New York, walking up Broadway, the air cold and swift, when the proposition presented itself. It seemed immaculate, a thought my mind had manufactured independently. As in youthful moments of drunkenness, I felt bold and invincible.

    I had gone to New York the previous month, at the invitation of Barnard College, to lecture on novels about exile and estrangement. But I had an older connection to the city. My parents had moved to Manhattan in the spring of 1970, when my father was appointed first secretary in the Libyan Mission to the United Nations. I was born that autumn. Three years later, in 1973, we returned to Tripoli. In the years since, I had...
About the Author-
  • Born in New York City to Libyan parents, Hisham Matar spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo and has lived most of his adult life in London. His debut novel, In the Country of Men, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and won numerous international prizes, including the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, a Commonwealth First Book Award, the Premio Flaiano, and the Premio Gregor von Rezzori. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, published in 2011, was named one of the best books of the year by The Guardian and the Chicago Tribune. His work has been translated into twenty-nine languages. He lives in London and New York.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    Starred review from May 1, 2016
    Novelist Matar (Anatomy of a Disappearance, 2011, etc.) returns to his native Libya in 2012 following a three-decade exile.At the center of this moving and vividly documented memoir is the author's quest to find answers to his father's disappearance in 1990. Jaballa Matar had formerly worked for the Libyan delegation to the United States yet later became an influential political dissident who, in reacting against Muammar Gaddafi's revolutionary regime, was forced to flee with his family from their home in Tripoli to Cairo. A decade later, while the author was a student in London, his father was kidnapped in the streets of Cairo by forces in the Libyan government. Though his eventual whereabouts would remain uncertain, he was likely held prisoner in the notorious Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, where he may have perished in the 1996 massacre of over 1,200 prisoners. Matar provides an intimate and absorbing account of the complex political events that would eventually lead to Gaddafi's downfall. As he shifts his focus between past and present events, allowing details of his father's disappearance to slowly and subtly emerge, he reveals a suspense novelist's seasoned instincts. In his ruminations on returning to a long-forgotten family and country, and the consequences of time passing, he applies a poet's sensibility. "Somebody would be telling an anecdote and midway through I would realize I had heard it before," he writes. "It seemed as if everyone else's development had been linear, allowed to progress naturally in the known environment, and therefore each of them seemed to have remained linked, even if begrudgingly or in disagreement, to the original setting-off point. At times I was experiencing a kind of distance-sickness, a state in which not only the ground was unsteady but also time and space." A beautifully written, harrowing story of a son's search for his father and how the impact of inexplicable loss can be unrelenting while the strength of family and cultural ties can ultimately sustain.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    June 1, 2016
    Matar envies mourners at funerals. Unlike him, they have the luxury of knowing that their loved ones are dead. The uncertainty about what became of his father after he was incarcerated in a prison in Tripoli has haunted Matar's years of living away from his homeland of Libya. After several decades, novelist Matar returns to the country in this elegiac memoir. His father was a high-ranking military officer when Muammar al-Qaddafi came to power, and was imprisoned before being exiled. Those Matar's father associated with in his efforts against the Qaddafi regimemany of them relativesmet similar fates. Matar recounts their stories, the precious few details he was able to collect about his father, and his own anguish in the twilight of uncertainty following his father's presumed death. It is a testament to the power of his story that his own search campaign, involving human-rights organizations and both the Libyan and British governments, takes second place to the bitter poignance of his journey home. With muscular elegance, Matar demonstrates that hope can be a form of agony.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2016, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2016

    Matar's fraught coming-of-age fiction debut, In the Country of Men, was a Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and won six international awards; his follow-up, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was best-booked by the Guardian and the Chicago Tribune. Here, he recounts his family history as vital backstory to those works. More than three decades ago, when Matar was 12 years old, his family fled Libya for Egypt. Eight years later, his diplomat-turned-dissident father was snatched from a Cairo street by the Libyan government and presumably held in its most horrific prison. As the author relates, he returned to Libya after Qaddafi's 2012 overthrow, hoping against hope to find his father still alive. To be excerpted in The New Yorker.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Hisham Matar
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