Hisham Matar: thank you for “The Return”


I just found Hisham Matar‘s book “The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between” thanks to this page at Book Marks (a book review aggregator), and let me tell you, having just read Martina Haag’s “Det är något som inte stämmer – a truly horrid piece of pap – this is beyond blissful, and I’ve read a fifth of it so far.

Just read this:

Preparing for the trip, I had vowed that, in the search for my father, I would take everything I had learnt about intuition, instinct and sensitivity and apply it as sharply as I could. I would keep myself available to what places might tell me about what had happened to him. One location that Diana and I had intended to visit in Tripoli was Abu Salim prison, where Father had been held. I imagined us walking across its infamous courtyard, where so much blood had been spilled, and into its long corridors lined with the doors that the revolutionaries had hammered open. But the closer the date of our trip approached, the less possible it seemed that I would be able to visit the prison. I knew that Diana wanted to photograph it. I could imagine those yet to be captured pictures in my mind. But even before we landed in Libya, I found myself telling her that under no circumstances were we to go to Abu Salim. I cannot think of any other instance when I forbade my wife from doing anything. I could not bear the thought of someone I love being in that place; that was the reason I gave Diana. The truth was that I lacked the strength to go to Abu Salim. I worried that if I found myself in those cells I had heard about, imagined, dreamt about for years—dark places where I had several times wanted to be, so as to finally be reunited with my father—that if I found myself in that place where his smell, and times, and spirit lingered (for they must linger), I might be forever undone.

When I think of what might have happened to him, I feel an abyss open up beneath me. I am clutching at the walls. They are rough and unreliable, made of soft clay that flakes off in the rain. The pit is circular. Like a well. Our well. For although my family has been in Ajdabiya for generations, there is another place, about thirty kilometres deeper into the desert, which is our older and more private home. Until my grandfather died, the family used to decamp there every year for the spring months and live in tents. Now it is where the family keeps its camels and where my cousins often go to picnic. Two ancient Greek reservoirs carved deep into the belly of the desert, collecting the scarce rainwater. Its name, whose meaning and linguistic origin we do not know, is Blo’thaah. My father was born there, in the spring of 1939.

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