AWEJ for Translation & Literary Studies, Volume 8, Number 2 May 2024 Pp.183-195

The Journey in Hisham Matar’s The Return: Between Freedom and Confinement

Department of English Language and Literature
Faculty of Arts and Humanities
The British University in Egypt
Email: noha.hanafy@bue.edu.eg


The paper explores Hisham Matar’s journey in his 2016 memoir, The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between. In the book, Matar undertakes a journey back to his homeland in Libya to uncover the truth of what happened to his father, who was targeted by the Gaddafi regime during the sixties and was subsequently imprisoned for 20 years. While the memoir primarily focuses on the journey “back” to Matar’s homeland in Libya, the memoir’s depiction of “home” problematizes the concept, raising questions about its limitations beyond being merely geographical. Therefore, home becomes elusive and not necessarily at all feasible altogether. Matar’s journey across continents foregrounds the contestation of boundaries. The oscillation between confinement and freedom overshadows the family’s journey that seems to involuntarily revolve around finding a home. This struggle is also connected to the relentless attempts to find the father before finally deciding to go back to Libya. With the ongoing struggle in searching for the father who was abducted before his imprisonment, the father himself becomes a metaphoric border. Reading the memoir, the reader senses that this overshadowing presence of the father’s legacy is juxtaposed with his perpetual absence signaling both a struggle to find the father and escape him. The interplay between freedom and imprisonment becomes intricately woven with the poetics of the journey and ultimately offers a narrative that defies victimhood and foregrounds agency.

Cite as:

Hanafy, N. (2024). The Journey in Hisham Matar’s The Return: Between Freedom and Confinement. Arab World English Journal for Translation & Literary Studies 8 (1)


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Noha Hanafy is a lecturer at the Department of English Language and Literature at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the British University in Egypt. She got her PhD from Ain Shams University. Her academic interests range from cultural studies, world and regional literature, environmental humanities, and contemporary Arabic literature
ORCiD ID:  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6644-7775