Literary The Return by Hisham Matar
#1  sun surfer 09-08-2017, 10:26 AM
'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 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 hope remains that Jaballa Matar will be found alive. Yet, as the author writes, hope is "persistent and cunning".

This book is a profoundly moving family memoir, a brilliant and affecting portrait of a country and a people on the cusp of immense change, and a disturbing and timeless depiction of the monstrous nature of absolute power.'

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between is the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.

This is the MR Literary Club selection for September 2017. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time, and guests are always welcome! So, what are your thoughts on it?

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#2  sun surfer 09-08-2017, 11:32 AM
Whichever book had won, I was planning on listening to the audiobook (all five nominees were available) because I still have a lot on my ebook plate but nothing on my audiobook plate currently so I'll hopefully be able to read it a little faster this way. We're definitely going very current this month. Matar was nominated a few other times here for his fictional book In the Country of Men so I'll be curious to see what I think of his non-fiction writing, though if awards are any indication then it already has some high praise.

Some amusing tidbits from a club runner's perspective: I think we've only ever had two recurring author winners so far in the lit club - Colm Tóibín and T.S. Eliot - both originally winning in 2015 only two months apart and then both having their second win in 2017. This observation would fit more in the general thread or last month's discussion except that I also noticed that the quote on both the second and third covers above for The Return are from none other than Tóibín. So, there's been some interesting author club weaving this year.

#3  issybird 09-08-2017, 11:40 AM
Quote sun surfer
Some amusing tidbits from a club runner's perspective: I think we've only ever had two recurring author winners so far in the lit club

#4  sun surfer 09-08-2017, 11:49 AM
Quote issybird
Oops; oh yes, Forster too! After so many years of nary a recurring winner, this is definitely the year for them (and their adulatory quotes on other winner's book covers).

#5  Bookworm_Girl 09-09-2017, 05:14 PM
I was able to borrow the book from my library with no wait. I would like to read one of his fiction books sometime. I especially liked Chapter 6, Poems, and the passage quoted below. Father and son relationships are a complicated mystery to me as a wife/sister/daughter, especially watching the lingering and haunting effects once the father has passed on. I thought "ghostly presence of their hand" was an interesting expression. I observe it in both my husband and my brother who are mature adults, even though their relationships with their fathers were in some ways the same and in many ways different.

And the father must have known, having once themselves been sons, that the ghostly presence of their hand will remain through the years, to the end of time, and that no matter what burdens are laid on that shoulder or the number of kisses a lover plants there, perhaps knowingly driven by the secret wish to erase the claim of another, the shoulder will remain forever faithful, remembering that good man's hand that had ushered them into the world. To be a man is to be part of this chain of gratitude and remembering of blame and forgetting, or surrender and rebellion, until a son's gaze is made so wounded and keen that, on looking back, he sees nothing but shadows.

#6  sun surfer 09-10-2017, 12:08 AM
Very lovely passage, Bookworm_Girl. I'm finding the writing in the book so far quite lovely and poetic though I haven't reached Chapter 6 yet. What I especially like is that it seems lovely and poetic in a very natural, calm and measured way, not forced as some (or perhaps much) literary writing can come across as.

I am also very much enjoying the audio narration by Matar himself. With this subject matter it lends heightened intimacy to hear the author read his own words.

#7  Bookworm_Girl 09-12-2017, 09:42 AM
As I keep reading more of the book, I find that the "calm and measured way" all of a sudden was building up to a very power paragraph which kind of catches one by surprise and really makes an emotional impact on the reader. Like the ending of the chapter "Old Man and His Son."

Interesting comments, sun surfer. If I slow down my reading and read a few lines out loud, then the poetic nature becomes more apparent. I can see how the audio narration by Matar must be enjoyable. I often like audiobook memoirs read by the author.

#8  sun surfer 09-19-2017, 04:28 PM
I'm about 2/3 through now. I don't specifically remember the ending to 'Old Man and His Son'; I'll need to go back and listen again to that section to know which part you're referring to.

One thing I noticed though is after Matar describes the fall of the regime and then the brief window of freedom and normalcy before factions vying for power devolved the country- he describes that outcome as shocking and surprising. I find this view by him, an author whom I consider very intelligent and already experienced in the darker side of human nature in governments, surprising myself. I can understand the hope that something better would have come from it all, but not the unwillingness to consider the likelihood of a darker outcome such as what happened, and he mentions it very matter-of-factly as if of course anyone wouldn't have considered that possibility.

I wonder if proximity and very personal ties to the situation and the people clouded his view in that regard.

#9  sun surfer 11-12-2017, 10:18 AM
I enjoyed Matar's writing and the personal view into this dark Libyan history, but in the end I found the book good but not great. I thought it was a bit too meandering at times and I had a few issues with certain parts, such as in my previous post. It still gave me an insight into something I only knew about in a very surface way before though, and I especially found some of the British government's reaction surprising although I tried to keep in mind that I'm reading a very involved person's very personal account and view of it all.

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