The Return: ~ by Hisham Matar

I got this expecting some kind of easy-breezy memoir, I guess. Big WRONG-O! It’s the poignant yet sometimes tension-filled and occasionally exciting true tale of a man in search of his father, his father’s ghost, his family, his country,  his life. It’s an amazing book and has the 2017 Pulitzer in Biography/Autobiography to show for itself.  (I didn’t know that when I got it on a kind of between-book whim.

But still,  overall,  it’s not really for me because it’s written so beautifully there seems to be a disconnect between the son’s anguish and his prose.  It’s like obsessive dreaming about a time long past hoping for a different ending.  Hoping for emotional closure where there might never be one.  And with the author reading it I’m afraid it all turns into a kind of soggy sad tale.

The Return:  Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between
by Hisham Matar
2017/ 245  pages
read by Hisham Matar 8h 51m
rating:  8  / memoir
(both read and listened)

What do you do when you cannot leave and cannot return?”   (p 4, Kindle)

After reading/listening to about half of it I realized that I might not be connecting it all,  even if I was both reading and listening.  This is partly due to the exquisitely written, although not necessarily chronologically told, narrative, but it’s also because the subject of Libya is complex in itself,  there seems to be a change in Matar’s mission and, finally, I really didn’t have the background – barely knew where Libya was on the map (although I had followed the end game of Muammar Qaddafi). And although the author, Hisham Matar, is   an acclaimed novelist, I’d never heard of him, either.

So I read up on some background using Wikipedia and a couple of reviews and started over.  Yup – it happened again.  The dreamy poetic narrative just doesn’t suit me I guess (but I have the same problem with Louise Erdrich who is so hung up on her own beautiful words and characters she forgets to emote the tension when she reads her own novels for a  recording.)

The book is beautifully written in spare but evocative prose which almost enhances the very real underlying tension set up from the first paragraphs of the book and ends with what we pray is closure.

This entry was posted in 2023 Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Return: ~ by Hisham Matar

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    Some books just don’t work as audio books. I learned this with Don DeLillo’s Falling Man. Superb book, but I could not make head nor tail of it as an audio book…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yup – Louise Erdrich writes beautiful books usually about Native American culture but when she reads them it’s like she’s reading to a bookstore gathering where a soft voice encourages attention and she reads her words with such loving tenderness.. With audiobooks the narrator is competing for my attention with everything else in my environment and that soft aching tone just doesn’t work. Matar is reading his own words here. Some authors can do it but other should stop trying or learn the difference between a quiet reading in a small bookstore and the demands of home/car/gym listening. lol –


  2. Thanks for this great review and just like you said some books don’t connect to you at all

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carmen says:

    Hahaha, Becky you cracked me up with the beautiful prose disconnected from the soggy tale. 😉 Too bad this one didn’t work for you. It just seems that beautiful prose not always suits a complicated story.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s