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The Illusion of Return

The nameless narrator of this startling novella believed himself to be under no illuson: a Palestinian refugee, he had escaped the deadly tumult of Lebanon—the roving militias and endlessly complicated religious violence—by having long ago fled to London. He knew he could never go back.

But then one day an old friend who had also escaped calls him and asks to meet at the airport on a stop-over on his way back to Lebanon. For the narrator, it summons up everything he thought he had suppressed, both the yearning to go home and the secret reason he can’t.

Thus the reunion with his old friend becomes, for the narrator, a disturbing confrnotation. And as they plunge into diverging memories—his friend’s frighteningly unreal, his own even more frighteningly too real—The Illusion of Return becomes a revealing and moving study of extremism and its brutalizing effect not only on nations but on the intimate lives of the individuals it touches.

SAMIR EL-YOUSSEF was born in Lebanon and eventually moved to London, where he currently resides. He has worked as a critic and essayist for magazines and newspapers in both English and Arabic, including the Guardian, The New Statesman, Al-Hayat, and The Washington Post. He is also the author of a novel and two short story collections in Arabic. El-Youssef received the Swedish PEN Tuchotsky Award in 2005 for promoting peace and freedom of speech in the middle east. The Illusion of Return is his first novel in English.

“[A] vivid portrait of life in wartime Lebanon, and the temporary refuge provided by friends… poignant and evocative.”The Economist

“A stirring book.” Financial Times

“A nuanced, thought-provoking look at this world, free of easy, political answers.” New Statesman