Friday 28 October 2016

Review: The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between by Hisham Matar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1969 a coup d'├ętat 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 UN. At the age of three, he first set foot in his home country. It was to become his home for the next few years, but as the political persecution grew in the country, Jaballa Matar was accused of being opposed to the regime. The family fled the country and Hisham and his brother spent the rest of their childhood in Cairo. University beckoned, and Hisham headed to London to study. Whilst he was in London, his father was kidnapped by the Egyptian secret police, and handed over to the Libyan authorities.

Hisham Matar last saw his father when he was nineteen. He was never to see or speak to him again.

Six years after he was snatched, the family had two letters delivered written in Jaballa’s hand. It explained what had happened and he said he was in the infamous Abu Salim prison. They received no other details until 2010, when Hisham was told that his father had been seen in 2002, implying that he had survived the horrific massacre of 1200 prisoners in 1996. All enquires to the Libyan authorities about their father’s whereabouts and welfare were met with silence or promises of answers. Everything changed in 2011; another revolution overthrew Qaddafi and for the first time in 22 years Hisham could return to his homeland once again and see family that he never thought he would see.

He involves the Foreign Office, as the Labour government at the time was building a relationship with Qaddafi, even having meetings with David Miliband to push for answers from the Libyan authorities on his father. He talks with and meets Sief el-Islam in the hope of finding something; but all he gets is promises. It is an eloquent but painful and emotional memoir to read; you feel his anguish every step of his journey. But it is fascinating too; there is as much about the humanity of some and the shocking indifference from others. Well worth reading.

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