The Illusion of Return

An airport is that most modern and liminal of places, a kind of temporary and
illusory ground between the worlds of home and elsewhere, a no-place through
which we pass, noting the lives occurring around us and sharing in their dislocations,
yet absorbed in our own. As such, it provides an apt central metaphor for Samir El-
Youssef ’s The Illusion of Return, a novel which turns on the brief reunion, after the
passage of seventeen years, of two Palestinian friends. Ali is in transit, flying from
America, where he had fled after a time as an Israeli collaborator; he is now on a
journey of return (and possibly expiation) back to Lebanon. The novel’s narrator is
also a Lebanese expatriate, though for vaguer reasons, and is currently a resident of
London where ‘[s]ince as far back as I remember, everything I have done or tried
to do has been half finished. In recent years I have had a half relationship with a
woman, no more than part-time jobs, and I have abandoned my PhD.’ He agrees,
though with misgivings, to interrupt the undistinguished and vague circumstances
of his life – his job, where he lives in London, and even his name remain unknown
to the reader – and meet with Ali during his stopover at Heathrow.

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