The Return Book Summary - The Return Book explained in key points

The Return summary

Hisham Matar

Brief summary

The Return is a memoir by Hisham Matar that follows his journey to find his father, who disappeared in Libya. It explores themes of family, loss, and the search for identity in a country torn by political turmoil.

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    The Return
    Summary of key ideas

    Return to Libya

    In The Return, Hisham Matar narrates his emotional return to his native country, Libya, after decades of involuntary exile. The central theme revolves around Matar's pursuit for the truth about his father's fate. Jaballa Matar, his father, was a prominent critic of Muammar Gaddafi's regime and was taken away by Egyptian secret police. His exact fate was unknown to the family, leaving them in deep distress and uncertainty.

    Hisham and his family fled to Cairo from Libya when he was a young boy and then moved to London. He spent much of his life grappling with his father's absence and its implications. The initial chapters chronicle this struggle, depicting the protagonist's complicated relationship with the past, the sense of abandonment, and the urgency to rediscover his roots.

    The Quest for Closure

    In the middle section of The Return, Matar delves deeper into his quest to uncover the truth about his father's imprisonment and presumed death. Upon his return to Libya, he begins to piece together his father's experiences in Abu Salim prison, based on the testimonies of former prisoners. These accounts paint a grim picture of the inhumane conditions in the prison and the atrocities committed there.

    Matar also contemplates the psychological torment experienced by those who disappear and their left-behind loved ones. He muses on the meaning of absence and how it influences identity and memories. He meets many individuals who also lost their loved ones under Gaddafi's regime, thus portraying the wider impact of political unrest on ordinary lives.


    During his journey, Matar reconnects with his extended family and homeland, experiencing a deep sense of homecoming. He vividly captures the culture and landscape of Libya, portraying both its beauty and the lingering scars of political unrest. There is a poignant contrast between his fond childhood memories and the current reality of his homeland.

    Despite his deep-rooted love for Libya, Matar struggles with a sense of alienation. He addresses the complexities of belonging, loss, memory, and identity, invoking deep reflection on the impact of exile and displacement.

    Seeking Truth

    In the end, Matar does not find definitive answers about his father's fate, enhancing the underlying theme of uncertainty that runs throughout the book. However, he comes to terms with the ambiguity by accepting that he might never uncover the whole truth. This acceptance allows him to gain a certain degree of closure and to honor his father's legacy.

    In conclusion, The Return is a heart-wrenching tale of a son’s quest for his missing father, set against the backdrop of a country in political turmoil. It emphasizes the fundamental human need for truth, justice, and closure while illustrating the profound impact of political instability on individuals and families.

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    What is The Return about?

    "The Return" is a memoir by Hisham Matar that tells the story of his journey to find his father, who was kidnapped and imprisoned in Libya. It explores themes of loss, identity, and the search for truth in a country ruled by dictatorship. Matar reflects on his own life and the political turmoil in Libya, offering a poignant and deeply personal account of his quest for closure and understanding.

    The Return Review

    The Return (2016) by Hisham Matar is a moving memoir that explores the author's search for his long-lost father, who was taken captive by the Libyan regime. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers a deeply personal and emotional exploration of family, loss, and the complexities of identity, captivating readers with its raw honesty.
    • The book sheds light on political repression and the effects of dictatorship, providing a unique perspective that fosters empathy and understanding.
    • Through its evocative storytelling and rich descriptions, it transports readers to the landscapes and emotions experienced by the author, ensuring that it is far from a dull read.

    Who should read The Return?

    • Anyone interested in personal and political memoirs
    • People who enjoy reading about the experiences of those in exile
    • Readers looking for a deeply moving and reflective exploration of grief

    About the Author

    Hisham Matar is a renowned Libyan author known for his powerful and deeply personal writing. His book, "The Return," is a memoir that explores his journey to uncover the truth about his father's disappearance in Libya. Matar's poignant storytelling and exploration of identity, loss, and the impact of political turmoil have earned him critical acclaim. "The Return" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won the 2017 PEN America Jean Stein Book Award. Matar's other notable works include "In the Country of Men" and "Anatomy of a Disappearance."

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    The Return FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Return?

    The main message of The Return is a powerful exploration of loss, exile, and the search for justice and closure.

    How long does it take to read The Return?

    The reading time for The Return varies depending on the reader's pace, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in about 15 minutes.

    Is The Return a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Return is a thought-provoking and compelling read that offers a unique perspective on personal and political struggles. Definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of The Return?

    The author of The Return is Hisham Matar.

    What to read after The Return?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Return, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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