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In the Country of Men

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In the Country of Men is a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the effects of Libyan strongman Khadafy's 1969 September revolution. Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman’s days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father’s constant In the Country of Men is a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the effects of Libyan strongman Khadafy's 1969 September revolution. Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman’s days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father’s constant business trips abroad. But his nights have come to revolve around his mother’s increasingly disturbing bedside stories full of old family bitterness. And then one day Suleiman sees his father across the square of a busy marketplace, his face wrapped in a pair of dark sunglasses. Wasn’t he supposed to be away on business yet again? Why is he going into that strange building with the green shutters? Why did he lie? Suleiman is soon caught up in a world he cannot hope to understand—where the sound of the telephone ringing becomes a portent of grave danger; where his mother frantically burns his father’s cherished books; where a stranger full of sinister questions sits outside in a parked car all day; where his best friend’s father can disappear overnight, next to be seen publicly interrogated on state television. In the Country of Men is a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the private fallout of a public nightmare. But above all, it is a debut of rare insight and literary grace.


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In the Country of Men is a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the effects of Libyan strongman Khadafy's 1969 September revolution. Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman’s days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father’s constant In the Country of Men is a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the effects of Libyan strongman Khadafy's 1969 September revolution. Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman’s days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father’s constant business trips abroad. But his nights have come to revolve around his mother’s increasingly disturbing bedside stories full of old family bitterness. And then one day Suleiman sees his father across the square of a busy marketplace, his face wrapped in a pair of dark sunglasses. Wasn’t he supposed to be away on business yet again? Why is he going into that strange building with the green shutters? Why did he lie? Suleiman is soon caught up in a world he cannot hope to understand—where the sound of the telephone ringing becomes a portent of grave danger; where his mother frantically burns his father’s cherished books; where a stranger full of sinister questions sits outside in a parked car all day; where his best friend’s father can disappear overnight, next to be seen publicly interrogated on state television. In the Country of Men is a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the private fallout of a public nightmare. But above all, it is a debut of rare insight and literary grace.

30 review for In the Country of Men

  1. 4 out of 5

    okyrhoe

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The child narrator’s point of view is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s as if the boy’s view of the world is warped by the surface of the water. Actually, Suleiman isn’t a particularly likeable character. On the contrary, the reader is discouraged from identifying with the first person narrator, for he recounts episodes of his boyhood in which he indulges in inexplicable cruel behavior which contrasts sharply with the boy's childish innocence in the face of evil and deceit. While the book’s The child narrator’s point of view is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s as if the boy’s view of the world is warped by the surface of the water. Actually, Suleiman isn’t a particularly likeable character. On the contrary, the reader is discouraged from identifying with the first person narrator, for he recounts episodes of his boyhood in which he indulges in inexplicable cruel behavior which contrasts sharply with the boy's childish innocence in the face of evil and deceit. While the book’s language is pretty much straightforward and uncomplicated, to the point that at first I thought this wasn’t going to be worth my while, as I read on, became engrossed by the subversive elements of the plot, and the constant interplay of the two temporal pasts of the narrative (Najwa-the mother’s past vs. Suleiman-the boy’s past). In the Country of Men has been criticized by Arab commentators for being politically vague, for depicting the opposition to the Libyan regime as a slipshod endeavor, in effect caricaturing the resistance movement. IMO this is what gives the book its humanity and poignancy. The novel's primary critique of contemporary Arab society is that this country of ‘men’ no longer operates according to ‘manly’ codes of conduct. All sense of justice, faith, honor, respect seems to have decayed. This can be seen in the juxtaposition between the strict moral codes women must still adhere to, a seemingly anachronistic tradition that persists in a society whose ruling regime loudly proclaims a total break with the past, the ushering in of the ‘modern’, the ‘revolutionary’, etc. We observe that the most devout adherents of The Guide are men who unashamedly forego ideological principles when it is convenient for themselves or for their superiors: Um Masood can be bribed by a cake topped with strawberries; the secret police try to score with Suleiman’s mother in exchange for overlooking the ‘shame’ of her drinking binges. And despite all the macho talk of capturing the ‘traitors’, the pistol-toting Sharief promptly abandons his idealistic mission when the ‘mighty hand’ decides to spare Suleiman’s father. However, the opposition isn't any better. Najwa’s brother, despite an American wife and a comfortable life abroad, reverts to the old ways when it comes to dealing with the matter of the family’s honour being compromised by the young girl. Faraj (Suleiman’s father), who is apparently one of the main financial benefactors of the opposition, has married an underage girl he has never seen before and even went so far as to deflower her as she lay unconscious with fear on her wedding night in accordance with tradition. Who better, then, to understand the futility of the 'resistance' than Najwa, (Suleiman’s mother). As a woman, as a victim of patriarchal status quo, she is aware that her husband’s struggle with the totalitarian regime is a futile battle. The system cannot be overcome when the men fighting it are themselves oppressors. And this is what In the Country of Men illustrates, by intertwining the two narratives: the subjugation of Najwa to the rule of men, and the subjugation of Faraj to the rule of the regime. Najwa’s adolescent ‘crime’ is that she was found talking to a boy in a public café. The ‘High Council’ of male family elders acted with the ‘efficiency rivaling that of a German factory’ in meting out the punishment after a closed ‘trial’ in which she is not allowed to come to her own defense. Her sentence begins with incarceration, beatings, a forced marriage, denial of access to books, and concludes with the rape on her wedding night. She remembers: “When I got home every light in my life was put out.” Years later, her husband’s fate echoes her own oppression. At the moment of Faraj’s arrest she immediately understands the enormity of his predicament: the possibility of being placed ‘behind the sun for ever’. His capture by the Revolutionary Committee men is followed by events paralleling her own submission: a mock trial, incarceration, beatings, forced confession, forced pledge of loyalty, deprived of his books, release. The ironic twist in this role reversal is that it is the woman who now holds the trump card --> She makes the morally superior choice to save him at all costs whereas no man or woman (not even her own mother) was willing to rescue/protect her. In the country of men, it is the woman who saves the day, overcoming the ‘cowardly’ stance of the Scheherazades past and present - idealists/fantasists who choose slavery over risking all for freedom. Najwa negotiates with her neighbor Ustath Jafer the until then much feared highranking Mokhabarat official and pledges obedience to the regime on behalf of her husband, as she had once given her own wedding pledge to him in order to ‘save’ her family’s honor: ‘A word had been given and word had been received, men’s words that could never be taken back or exchanged.’ Finally, I want to point out the crowning ironic symbol: The white handkerchief, a testament of Najwa's virgin ‘honor’ upon her bridal bed, becomes the white sheet on the mirror protecting the ‘violated’ husband from his own reflected image upon his return home a badly bruised and broken man.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    From my blog: written by Hisham Matar and published in February 2007 by The Dial Press. This is Matar's bio as written on the end flap: Hisham Matar was born in 1970 in New York city to Libyan parents and spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo. He lives in London and is currently at work on his second novel. In the Country of Men will be published in twenty-two languages. This was a difficult book to read, not because of the density of the writing - dense it was not - but because the characters From my blog: written by Hisham Matar and published in February 2007 by The Dial Press. This is Matar's bio as written on the end flap: Hisham Matar was born in 1970 in New York city to Libyan parents and spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo. He lives in London and is currently at work on his second novel. In the Country of Men will be published in twenty-two languages. This was a difficult book to read, not because of the density of the writing - dense it was not - but because the characters drew you into their lives in such a way that you wanted to, but couldn't, dialog with them. The story is told through the eyes and voice of a 9-year-old boy, Suleiman, as he describes how he sees what's happening to his family - his mother, his father, and his uncle - and their immediate friends and relatives in Libya in 1979. The story is tragic in many ways, but life is life and tragedy is part of it. You have to take it as it is because it's the only way to get to know, appreciate, and respect those whose lives are different from our own. Just the other evening, a group of us were talking about what we perceived as the tragic lives of an elderly couple we all know, a couple who never has enough money to buy healthy food or clothing and who lives in substandard housing. Yet, you can't go in and fix the situation, or even try, unless you're asked, because the damage to human dignity, when you try to make a "happily ever after," according to our own individual standards, is often more damaging than the "tragic" circumstances themselves. Thus is was with this book. I kept wanting to "explain things" to this little boy, to tell him to grow up and learn what it means to keep a secret, to trust his family, even though it seemed that all the world was falling apart. So much I wanted to tell him. I wanted to hold him in my arms with my hands close to his mouth to keep him quiet, perhaps in the way you might do with a small child. I wanted Suleiman to be more mature than he was, and I wondered why he wasn't. I wanted to tell his mother that she needed to help him grow up by explaining more than she did. The book made me want to get involved and "fix things." But this was Suleiman's life, his mother's life, his father's life, his uncle's life, and the lives of their friends and relatives, and I could only observe. It's better that way. We can't rule the universe; and even if we could, our disasters might be worse than the real ones we perceive. The book was disturbing, but I'm glad I read it. The story will stay with me for a long time. I'm glad Hisham Matar told the story in a way I could read and feel it. I am better, even though sadder, for having experienced a bit of Suleiman's life. Like the rest of us who survive childhood - and Suleiman did, we go on and we make of our lives what we can, the best we can. I hope he is doing well!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeremiah Seyrak

    This is one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. Reading this book has also brought to life all the stories my dad used to tell me about what it was like to live in Egypt with its inequality, dictatorship governments, and that your every action is monitored. It may sound like something from Orwell 1984, but it’s not, it’s the harsh reality for many living in a region where prosperity and success is granted to a very very small select few, while the majority of the population can barely afford to This is one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. Reading this book has also brought to life all the stories my dad used to tell me about what it was like to live in Egypt with its inequality, dictatorship governments, and that your every action is monitored. It may sound like something from Orwell 1984, but it’s not, it’s the harsh reality for many living in a region where prosperity and success is granted to a very very small select few, while the majority of the population can barely afford to eat three square meals, or where the majority can’t even read because it isn’t a priority for the government. It’s a place where you will never get the same opportunities that I am lucky to have. I feel very privileged to live where I do after reading this story.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I began by reading The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between and I wanted more. In the Country of Men, by the same author, is fiction with a strong autobiographical basis. Having read the two books in this order one can easily differentiate between fictional and non-fictional elements. The two books are not the same; reading them both is not repetitive. In this book, we look at a young Libyan boy growing up under Qaddafi's military dictatorship. The year is 1979, and the boy's father is I began by reading The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between and I wanted more. In the Country of Men, by the same author, is fiction with a strong autobiographical basis. Having read the two books in this order one can easily differentiate between fictional and non-fictional elements. The two books are not the same; reading them both is not repetitive. In this book, we look at a young Libyan boy growing up under Qaddafi's military dictatorship. The year is 1979, and the boy's father is a dissident fighting for change. We see through the eyes of a nine-year-old. The boy is trying to understand his parents' troubled relationship. He is trying to understand the world around him. It is a coming of age story about a young boy who wants to be a man, still loves his mother deeply with the immature love of a child and yet also loves, admires and respects his father. Growing up is about growing independent, and the book shows this with a deft eye. We observe the boy’s relationships with classmates, neighbors, and family. The ride is emotional, so "observe" is in fact the wrong word. The book shines in how it so accurately and so heartrendingly shows his innocence and his growing awareness of an adult world where opposition has dire consequences. What do you choose? Are you quiet, do you say nothing, do you stay in line, do you follow under the shelter of the wall or do you oppose and put both yourself and your family in danger? And if your mother and father see this differently, can you not understand both? But still you are only nine! The lines moved me. If I write them here will one grasp their poignancy? The novel ends with his mother straightening his collar. This brought tears to my eyes. The audiobook is narrated by Khalid Abdallah. Many will love his narration because he dramatizes with fervor. I prefer to hear every word spoken clearly rather than having them jumbled in expressions of anger, sadness and frenzy. I'd rather figure out for myself words' emotional content. The book emphasizes more the emotional turmoil of living under Qaddafi’s reign of terror than focusing on historical content.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Margitte

    The book is, once again, a narrative told by the people of a country, about their country for their country (and the world). As communism is dying around the world, and the effects it had on people's lives are appearing more and more all over the planet, the reader is drawn into this story by the nine year old Suleima writing about his life in Libya and what happened to his nuclear family, the extended family, the neighbor and friends in 1979 during the regime of Mohammar Khadafi. His dad, Faraj, The book is, once again, a narrative told by the people of a country, about their country for their country (and the world). As communism is dying around the world, and the effects it had on people's lives are appearing more and more all over the planet, the reader is drawn into this story by the nine year old Suleima writing about his life in Libya and what happened to his nuclear family, the extended family, the neighbor and friends in 1979 during the regime of Mohammar Khadafi. His dad, Faraj, is a successful businessman who did nothing unacceptable when he raped his unconscious fifteen year old virgin bride, Najwa, on their wedding night, since it was totally fine in their male dominated culture. But for the unhappy, unwilling bride, it created years of bitterness which she had to address on her own through her secret martini-addiction and cigarettes. Suleima witnesses her struggle as well as his father's political struggle and it has an effect on his inexperienced, young thoughts and decisions. He learns how to recognize danger, but also misinterprets people's intentions towards him, resulting in him betraying people he loved the most without knowing it. The boy tells three people's stories in one narrative His own, his mother's and his father's. It is the oppressed Najwa, his mother, who ended up resolving their situation and change their lives. An excellent read!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nada Elfeituri

    I'm a Libyan, so as soon as I heard of the existence of this book I ran to get it. There aren't many Libyan authors (because, as usual, of Gadhafi), so I have respect for the ones out there. My expectations for this book were really high. After the revolution any bit of culture that was Libya-related was treated like gold. I knew a lot of people who loved this book, so I guess I built it up in my head to be a masterpiece or something. Unfortunately it didn't meet up to my ridiculous fantasies. I'm a Libyan, so as soon as I heard of the existence of this book I ran to get it. There aren't many Libyan authors (because, as usual, of Gadhafi), so I have respect for the ones out there. My expectations for this book were really high. After the revolution any bit of culture that was Libya-related was treated like gold. I knew a lot of people who loved this book, so I guess I built it up in my head to be a masterpiece or something. Unfortunately it didn't meet up to my ridiculous fantasies. The story is told from the point of the view of the main protagonist, a nine year boy named Suleiman. While the portrayal of life under Gadhafi was accurate, it was told through the impatient and shallow perspective of a child. The story didn't really have a plot, it was more a short memoir. More than once I was reminded of The Kite Runner, albeit with more stilted dialogue and a slower pace. A lot of elements confused me, like the vaguely Oedipal relationship with the his mother, the fact that no one every explained to him what was going on, how he would begin narrating an event and then abruptly stop and move on to something else. What I'm trying to say is, without blatantly insulting a fellow Libyan, is that the book was interesting in the fact that it is one of the few books that speak from a Libyan point of view, but as a novel is wasn't particularly engaging.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kyriakos Sorokkou

    AFRICAN BOOKS MARATHON BOOK: 3 TITLE: In the Country of Men AUTHOR: Hisham Matar COUNTRY: Libya I chose this book because it takes place in Libya of 1979. My father was working in Bengazi (2nd largest city in Libya) in 1979, and things he told me where present in this book. Policemen everywhere; in shops, in the streets, phone calls were usually tracked, you had to be careful of what you were saying, your posture, and attitude. 1979 10 years (1969) after Muammar Qaddafi's bloodless coup d'état and we AFRICAN BOOKS MARATHON BOOK: 3 TITLE: In the Country of Men AUTHOR: Hisham Matar COUNTRY: Libya I chose this book because it takes place in Libya of 1979. My father was working in Bengazi (2nd largest city in Libya) in 1979, and things he told me where present in this book. Policemen everywhere; in shops, in the streets, phone calls were usually tracked, you had to be careful of what you were saying, your posture, and attitude. 1979 10 years (1969) after Muammar Qaddafi's bloodless coup d'état and we see life in Libya under Qaddafi (The Guide) through the eyes of nine-year-old Suleiman. Seeing Libya through the eyes of a young boy is like seeing an iceberg above the sea level. You only see a small percentage. What's below is something larger and more complex. The boy's narration; (although we understand it is narrated by Suleiman in retrospective, now a 24-year-old and as a grown-up man can give more information and more description that what we might expect from a 9-year-old) is still a boy's narration, and we feel as outsiders. We don't know why A' is considered a traitor, and why B' was hanged, and why C' escaped Libya. The boy narrator leaves a lot to the imagination. I can't say that nothing really happens. A lot of things happen but they are presented as trivial every-day events, and the whole story feels like a soap-opera, where there's no much development of characters, and the plot takes a long time to develop, and when it does it's barely noticeable. There's no real climax or denouement, just several smaller climaxes and denouements. Suleiman is not a 100% likeable character, he betrays people around him, he tells secrets of his family to random people, he can be violent sometimes (usually kicking and throwing stones), he has an Oedipal relationship with his mother which is severed every time his father is at home, he feels resentment against others, for reasons unexplained and many more. When he discovers that his father is not on a trip abroad but he actually stayed in Tripoli, he feels betrayed by his father's lie and now he begins to understand when the grown-ups lie to him and demands explanations usually through the medium of tantrums. "Suddenly the wider world becomes a frightening place where parents lie and questions go unanswered." ( and this last applies to the reader too) To sum up, the plot had an open beginning and ending and a straightforward plot, didn't love it but didn't hate it either so I feel I should give this book a 3,5 stars. My 1st contact with Libya and certainly not the last. You can see the complete list of my African Books here:

  8. 4 out of 5

    Soumen Daschoudhury

    Betrayal. A stab in the back. If devoid of conscience, it is free of hurt; else you can never free yourself from the crushing ugly rock of repentance, of self pity. Did little Suleiman, a mere nine year old child know that he was betraying the ones he loved the most, murdering the hopes of a rebellion, a fight for a cause, a secret mission, a revolution to eradicate another? Was there a realization, even a tiny bit of shame when he did so? And for what, this heinous misdeed? It isn't easy for Betrayal. A stab in the back. If devoid of conscience, it is free of hurt; else you can never free yourself from the crushing ugly rock of repentance, of self pity. Did little Suleiman, a mere nine year old child know that he was betraying the ones he loved the most, murdering the hopes of a rebellion, a fight for a cause, a secret mission, a revolution to eradicate another? Was there a realization, even a tiny bit of shame when he did so? And for what, this heinous misdeed? It isn't easy for a child to cope when the fatal realization dawns on him that his small world that he breathes in is built on a plinth of glorious lies. Is his Baba what he veritably knows him to be? Why does he leave them so frequently when he knows that Mama falls ill whenever he abandons them? Why can’t he be a simple man like Ustath Rashid, his best friends’ father? Left alone to be the man of the house, he is laden with his incapacitated Mama’s impressionable stories of her past, tales of woe and oppression a child should never discover. A boundary of hatred engulfs him when he realizes that his Baba has lied to him, to his Mama; what is this secret he can’t be told about? The internal turmoil lurking in a child’s mind can turn him into a monster, a fire breathing deadly ogre surpassing all confines of treachery. Hisham Matar’s story is based in Libya, during the trying times of Gadaffi’s revolutionary regime. It is a crushing tale of clandestine rebellion against this regime by a handful of comrades who strive for a better Libya, a free Libya lacking in oppression and dictatorship. It is the story of young Suleiman’s ugly and blatant utterance of truth, his gruesome effort of disentangling himself and breaking free from the cosmos of lies built around him. But truth comes at a price, at a devastating price. The writing lacks poetry, in fact is bland. It is plainly evident that the author thinks in his native language and what you read is a literal translation. You will inadvertently compare the story with Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’. The stories from this part of the world are turning out into cliches but where the writing lacks in color, it compensates in its horrific simplicity and grotesque threadbare incidents of cruelty. Not for a moment did I feel any sympathy for the child; in fact I have to vulgarly admit that I hated him. Throttling freedom and strangling views under the veil of ideologies isn't manly, at all!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Some authors make a political statement with their stories, powerful because of the emotional connections we make as readers to the circumstances. In this case, and despite the multiple awards and award nominations, I felt the story was a thin veil over circumstances that the author wanted to talk about. The nine year old makes confusing decisions, isn't afraid when a normal child would be, leading to destruction around him. He felt emotionally distant. At the same time, the author ends up not Some authors make a political statement with their stories, powerful because of the emotional connections we make as readers to the circumstances. In this case, and despite the multiple awards and award nominations, I felt the story was a thin veil over circumstances that the author wanted to talk about. The nine year old makes confusing decisions, isn't afraid when a normal child would be, leading to destruction around him. He felt emotionally distant. At the same time, the author ends up not giving the reader very much background information on what is actually going on, since he tries to keep it to the world of that same nine year old. I'd have to go read another book to understand the context. I would prefer if it was all included here! At the same time, I wonder if that was the author's intent - to portray the confusion a child would feel during war, revolution, and oppression. In his small universe, the parts of life he depends on - family, friends, school - are all disrupted by forces he isn't sure if he should fear or show loyalty to. He suspects his Dad may be a traitor, what is a child to do when he isn't told everything?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)

    Matar writes beautifully, here—sometimes to a fault. Told through the eyes of a 9-year-old Libyan boy in the early years of Khaddafy's reign, the novel suffers from child-narrator-syndrome: the boy couldn't possibly grasp the significance of what was befalling his family the way the narration suggests. The complex character of his mother interested me more than anything else in this rather slow-moving, Proustian take on a harrowing situation.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    3/5stars

  12. 5 out of 5

    Samar

    Sadly, a quote from Francis Bacon comes to mind, that some books should only be sampled or some such thing. This book was quite dull. I started it with great expectations; it was the first novel I had read by a Libyan writer and with Libya constantly in the news, I thought its moment had come. It is also a book narrated from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, and I was looking forward to some innocence, humour and charm. There was not much of that- the boy seemed at once too mature and too Sadly, a quote from Francis Bacon comes to mind, that some books should only be sampled or some such thing. This book was quite dull. I started it with great expectations; it was the first novel I had read by a Libyan writer and with Libya constantly in the news, I thought its moment had come. It is also a book narrated from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, and I was looking forward to some innocence, humour and charm. There was not much of that- the boy seemed at once too mature and too clueless. Though not a translated work, the book uses language in a vapid, unimaginative manner. Again, we seem to have the usual genre coming out of the Middle East- sociology and political studies posing as literature. They don't make for good bedfellows, in my opinion, or at least not the way it's done in the Arab world. Perhaps the socio/political issues are so pressing and so current that writers cannot devote themselves to exploring the issues normally explored in the novel- by the time the writers are done with conveying what they perceive as the necessary information- of repression, brutality, torture, religion, and exile, there is not much time left for anything else. To be fair to the book, there were a few touches I liked. The fact that Suleiman (the nine-year-old) betrays his father and his best friend (though does not do serious damage to his father) is insightful. Is this the nature of such repressive regimes- that even innocent children end up betraying those they love most, as- at some unconscious level perhaps- they understand that it is the easier option. Another theme I thought was dealt with well was that of exile- Suleiman ends up forced into exile by his parents, and while he has no desire to return to his homeland, he resents his parents for depriving him of his homeland, no matter the reasons. And the irony is that for his parents, sending the son to Egypt was the ultimate sacricife they had to make to guarantee his safety, and yet the son, though understanding this, does not feel any more compassion towards them. Suleiman himself is caught in a cycle of safety and emptiness from which he can never be delivered.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eslam Abd

    Does it worth a re-reading? I think, it earnestly does.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nojood Alsudairi

    It is nice to read this book in Arabic but if you can, read it in the language it was written in originaly; English. Reading the book in English gave it one more star. What amazes me is the development of the 9 year old character that took place in a small number of days. His adoration, love-hate and pitty relationship with his parents, especially his mom, is portrayed in a wonderful way. The struggle of the child between admiring the enemy and disliking him, at the same time, is shown in the It is nice to read this book in Arabic but if you can, read it in the language it was written in originaly; English. Reading the book in English gave it one more star. What amazes me is the development of the 9 year old character that took place in a small number of days. His adoration, love-hate and pitty relationship with his parents, especially his mom, is portrayed in a wonderful way. The struggle of the child between admiring the enemy and disliking him, at the same time, is shown in the violence of the child himself that is unexpected. One of the books I entend to read over and over.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Madhulika Liddle

    I have a weakness for books written from a child’s perspective. In the hands of a good writer, an adult world seen through a child’s eyes can take on an aspect completely different from what we, the adults, see. Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men takes place in the Libya of the ‘Guide’, Muammar Qaddafi. Nine year old Suleiman, or Slooma, as he’s called affectionately by his father, is the only child of Faraj and his young wife Najwa, a twenty four year old woman who waits with her son at home I have a weakness for books written from a child’s perspective. In the hands of a good writer, an adult world seen through a child’s eyes can take on an aspect completely different from what we, the adults, see. Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men takes place in the Libya of the ‘Guide’, Muammar Qaddafi. Nine year old Suleiman, or Slooma, as he’s called affectionately by his father, is the only child of Faraj and his young wife Najwa, a twenty four year old woman who waits with her son at home while Faraj goes off on business, travelling all the time, coming home with rich gifts. Suleiman’s days go by in playing with (and fighting with) his friends from the neighbourhood, and in trying to understand his mother, who seems to stay so ill and alleviates her suffering with the smelly medicine she gets in a paper-wrapped bottle… a medicine that sends her on long, rambling, self-pitying reminiscences of her life before marriage. And then Suleiman’s father’s role in the anti-Qaddafi uprising among students across Libya, becomes known. And things begin to fall apart. For me, the descriptions of horrifying violence and tyranny, even more frightening because we see them through the eyes of a boy who can understand them to some extent, were the type that really came alive. To be honest, I knew very little (nothing?) of what Qaddafi’s coming to power, and his subsequent reign, had entailed, especially for the common people, so in many ways this book taught me something. It is also a fine examination of character and relationships. Suleiman’s relationship with his parents, with his friends—whom he sometimes, in the selfish cruelty so common in children, happily ill-treats or betrays. The connections, of love and loyalty, of betrayal and mutual benefit (the I scratch your back and you scratch mine phenomenon). There is a realism to the characters here that brings them vividly alive. Plus, the reason why I started this review thus. The way Matar shows the world through the eyes of a child. Not a child young enough to be oblivious to all that happens around him, but not even a child old enough to really understand everything. Some of what Suleiman describes is instantly recognizable to the reader for what it is, but makes sense to Suleiman only much later. Some never makes sense to him. And, as in real life, some perhaps does not ever make sense to any of us.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Behind reports of dissidents intimidated, tortured and killed by the world's repressive regimes hide the subtler, more obscure stories of their young children. They experience a world overcast by two shadows: parents trying to shield them from alarm and Orwellian governments denying that anything is amiss. Writing from his current home in London, Libyan author Hisham Matar has captured this plight in his first novel, a haunting, poetic story about a 9-year-old boy struggling to comprehend what's Behind reports of dissidents intimidated, tortured and killed by the world's repressive regimes hide the subtler, more obscure stories of their young children. They experience a world overcast by two shadows: parents trying to shield them from alarm and Orwellian governments denying that anything is amiss. Writing from his current home in London, Libyan author Hisham Matar has captured this plight in his first novel, a haunting, poetic story about a 9-year-old boy struggling to comprehend what's happening to his family in the vise of Col. Moammar Gaddafi's reign of terror. In the Country of Men, which was shortlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize, includes frightening glimpses of the dictatorship's abuses and Libya's brand of Islamic puritanism, but Matar focuses primarily on the psychological damage wreaked on his young narrator. In 1979, Suleiman is an only child enjoying summer vacation in the usual ways of children everywhere: swimming, climbing trees, playing with his friends in the streets. But a deep anxiety pervades his home in Tripoli. A man is parked outside in a car "like a giant dead moth in the sun." His father, a successful businessman, is tense and distant. The adults who drop by sound happy until Suleiman steps out of the room; then they fall into panicked whispers. His mother grows increasingly dependent on her secret "medicine." A model of matronly care and concern during the day, she burdens her son at night with tales of her forced marriage at the age of 14, the sexual humiliations she endured, the dreams she relinquished. Matar writes in a voice that shifts gracefully between the adult exile looking back and the young boy experiencing these events through his limited, confused point of view. Why are they burning father's books and papers? Who is that voice breaking into the phone calls? Why has another boy's father "vanished like a grain of salt in water"? "I couldn't wait to be a man," little Suleiman thinks, "heavy with the world," but what does it mean to become a man in a country where men are either brutal or cowed? Powerless to save his family from threats he can't begin to understand, Suleiman falls into bouts of sullenness and anger, committing acts of betrayal that immediately sting him with shame. Looking back at this "time of blood and tears, in a Libya full of bruise-checkered and urine-stained men," he realizes that his childhood left a "lasting impression on me, one that has survived well into my adulthood, a kind of quiet panic." Though set in one of the world's most peculiar, most despotic countries, this sad, beautiful novel captures the universal tragedy of children caught in their parents' terrors. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tinea

    The narrator's mother tells him that Scheherazade, when the king finally allowed her a wish after 1,001 stories and she asked that he spare her, chose a life "of slavery" over death. But this whole book is about people choosing lives of slavery (to a husband, to a government, to an exile) rather than death. And the death we see, the lives that are lived, leave little evidence to judge if Suleiman's mother was right. Obviously, I side with the revolutionaries and the girls who talk back to their The narrator's mother tells him that Scheherazade, when the king finally allowed her a wish after 1,001 stories and she asked that he spare her, chose a life "of slavery" over death. But this whole book is about people choosing lives of slavery (to a husband, to a government, to an exile) rather than death. And the death we see, the lives that are lived, leave little evidence to judge if Suleiman's mother was right. Obviously, I side with the revolutionaries and the girls who talk back to their fathers. But Matar writes the kind of fiction that deals with the practical convenience of caving. I believe in this reality, in which the only hero pisses himself and pukes in his mouth before hanging in front a jeering crowd. It's a depressing book in which the innocent are not honorable, and trauma is recycled with curiosity or indifference onto others. Nine year old boys are allowed to explore their full horrible privilege to inflict pain without consequences. Short work, feminist, prose that is rich. [Great African Reads book club]

  18. 5 out of 5

    Praveen Palakkazhi

    Continuing my recent plough through the Booker lists of the last decade or so. A relatively simple and short tale set in an increasingly complicated environment, this was the Booker shortlisted debut of exiled Libyan author, Hisham Matar. Set in 1979 Tripoli during the oppressive regime of Qaddafi, this is a tale told from the point of view of its nine year old narrator as he gets inadvertently pulled into the murky world of deception and revolution. Matar has personal experience in this regard, Continuing my recent plough through the Booker lists of the last decade or so. A relatively simple and short tale set in an increasingly complicated environment, this was the Booker shortlisted debut of exiled Libyan author, Hisham Matar. Set in 1979 Tripoli during the oppressive regime of Qaddafi, this is a tale told from the point of view of its nine year old narrator as he gets inadvertently pulled into the murky world of deception and revolution. Matar has personal experience in this regard, with his father having been allegedly kidnapped while in exile in Egypt in the 90’s and missing since then (though it appears he is imprisoned in the notorious Abu-Salim prison in the heart of Tripoli). Suleiman, like most other nine year olds, is only concerned with his immediate world. He has a deep bond with his mother, who he is left alone with for long periods as his father goes on ‘business’ trips. He has his friends the closest of which is Kareem, who is their neighbor’s son. That neighbor is Ustath Rashid, also a relatively liberal schoolteacher and his wife, who are both close respectively to Suleiman’s parents. An air of menace and submission hangs around the country as Colonel Qaddafi and his Revolutionary party exercise their iron fist and crack down on any dissidents in a very public and immediate way. Suleiman starts realizing that his mother is not especially well when their father leaves them and goes. This ‘illness’ manifest in the bottles she keeps illegally procuring from a local baker and the tales of pent up bitterness she starts to whisper in his ear as she is under the influence. A child bride, Suleiman’s mother was quickly married off to his father when she was 14 and was found sitting in a café with a fellow male student. Locked up, beaten and kept from her books, she had to submit to the will of the ‘High Council’ of males in her family and agree to the match to a much older man. On the wedding night, as is custom, she had to endure being deflowered in a time honored violent way so as to reassure the families and her husband of her purity. The aftereffects of this forced submission to the men in her family is a life spent increasingly in bitterness and addiction, as Suleiman is witness to. Suleiman, on his part, wants his baba (father) to be more available emotionally like his friend’s father, Ustath Rashid, and for his mother to appreciate him – he has fantasies of going back in time and rescuing the 14 year old version of her and reuniting her with the boy in the café. One day, though, his world comes into chaos, as he views his father in the town going into a strange building despite being supposed to be away on one of his business trips. From then on, what we see is Suleiman’s increasingly futile attempts to make sense of the mystery surrounding his parents and his country. Why does Ustath Rashid get taken away suddenly by agents of the Revolutionary Party? What was his father doing all those days he is supposed to be away? And why is there a Revolutionary Party member outside of his house? Where the book scores is in its depiction of childhood innocence flowing away in the face of an oppressive regime and how even children can be forced into deceptions and betrayals unknowingly in such an atmosphere. It also shows how a fractured family can negatively affect a child into doing things he shouldn’t have and the importance of trusting your kids with the truth sometimes. Would the same sequence of events have happened if his parents had in some way appraised Suleiman in what was happening? Would Suleiman have felt such a need for acceptance from strangers if he had got the tender loving care at home and if his mother had kept her bitterness at bay? Should his father have paid more attention to how his own family views him before he went out to fix the country? Where it does lose a point from me though is in the depiction of the struggle against the Revolutionary Party. It is always hinted at but never really explored in detail, which is probably the result of telling the story through the eyes of a nine year old of course. The last part of the book also seemed to have a sudden tonal shift into brutal violence and exile which probably could have been explored with a bit more of depth. It’s all still pretty good though, with some simple and good prose to keep the pages turning and provides a bittersweet portrait of a country in distress mirrored in the family at the center of the story.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Brookfield

    I bought 'In the Country of Men' because I heard Hisham Matar talking on the radio and was captivated. He talked not just about this novel (without giving too much away - always a challenge!) and also about the writing process itself, eloquently expressing all the joys and difficulties that go with the territory of trying to create a story that combines drama with truth. The book won numerous awards, including being shortlisted for the Man Booker, and is based on harrowing real-life events which I bought 'In the Country of Men' because I heard Hisham Matar talking on the radio and was captivated. He talked not just about this novel (without giving too much away - always a challenge!) and also about the writing process itself, eloquently expressing all the joys and difficulties that go with the territory of trying to create a story that combines drama with truth. The book won numerous awards, including being shortlisted for the Man Booker, and is based on harrowing real-life events which Hisham and his family experienced themselves during the implosion of Libya in 1979. I was therefore surprised - and feel guilty to admit! - that I was disappointed. The story is written in the highest quality prose, of that there is no doubt, sometimes poetic, sometimes brutally factual, but there was something about the overall tone of the narrative that I found grating. I kept telling myself this was unreasonable of me, since the narrator of the story is the 9 year old boy, Suleiman, trying to understand why the world he knows is collapsing around him - so of course there was going to be a distinctive slant to the text. Yet I have read other such narratives through the eyes of youngsters - To Kill A Mockingbird springs to mind - and been gripped as opposed to irritated. There were moments when I was genuinely swept along - as little Suleiman himself is - by events and actions he does not understand, but I am afraid I could not separate myself from the annoyance sufficiently to award it more than three stars. Perhaps it was a book that just came at me at the wrong time. Books can do that, it's part of their fascination. Just as stories can land in our laps just when we need them most. Hisham Matar is an excellent writer, he just wasn't right for me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Serene

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is an honest look at human weakness when facing tyranny. The author writes several variations on this theme -- how the young Suleiman gives his father's friend away to Qaddafi's security forces, how Suleiman's mother gives in to her circumscribed role as housewife in the face of a marriage forced upon her, and how even Suleiman's father confesses to rescue himself from punishment. In all of these events, we wish the characters had been able to hold loyal to their beliefs, but we are This book is an honest look at human weakness when facing tyranny. The author writes several variations on this theme -- how the young Suleiman gives his father's friend away to Qaddafi's security forces, how Suleiman's mother gives in to her circumscribed role as housewife in the face of a marriage forced upon her, and how even Suleiman's father confesses to rescue himself from punishment. In all of these events, we wish the characters had been able to hold loyal to their beliefs, but we are not terribly surprised when they are not. So a story that starts out so innocent, so full of a boy's love towards his friends and parents, ends on a horribly cynical note. It is not that all humanity is destined to fail his beliefs (there are characters in the book who model the contrary), but certainly some if not most are, and it is this type of people that the author chose to focus on. It a strong, well-written novel, though occasionally gets repetitive. The author harps on the mother's drinking habit, and Suleiman's dreams of rescuing his mother, and the exchanges with the neighborhood kids get tiring. I also have a pet peeve about the "oppressed woman" in expat Arab literature. Can literature please show the diversity of Arab women's lives out there and not make it as if all Arab women are beaten and forced into child marriages? [End of rant.:] But I still am glad I read the book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Salma

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. As today marks the First Libyan elections after Gaddafi, I felt it was a victory well deserved for the Libyan struggle. Reading "In The Country Of Men" opened my eyes to a whole new world of complete oppression and tyranny that cannot be slightly compared to the case in Egypt. It's even when the parents of Suliman wanted to get him a better life, he travelled to our Cairo! I would never blame him that he didn't wish to return back to Libya. I would have never imagined myself living in a world of As today marks the First Libyan elections after Gaddafi, I felt it was a victory well deserved for the Libyan struggle. Reading "In The Country Of Men" opened my eyes to a whole new world of complete oppression and tyranny that cannot be slightly compared to the case in Egypt. It's even when the parents of Suliman wanted to get him a better life, he travelled to our Cairo! I would never blame him that he didn't wish to return back to Libya. I would have never imagined myself living in a world of humiliation and gloring of the tyranny. I would never imagine finding the eavesdropper on a phone call interrupting two persons talking with such bravad. I would never imagine living in a world where a book called "Democracy Now" can get you to execution.. An execution implemented in a stadium and aired on National TV. It was painful that a young boy would be facing all this by himself. But I have to admit, I didn't like reading it through the eyes of a nine-year old boy. He took too much words in describing every single detail. But overall, this novel is a must-read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Karielle at Books à la Mode

    I'm normally not a fan of historical fiction, but as a world literature lover, I couldn't help but try this one. Even though it was a little difficult to get into, I am so, so glad I did. In the Country of Men is a gripping account, from a small boy's perspective, of Gaddafi's infamous terror regime. It shimmers in the triumphs and fumes in the horrors of the the Libyan revolution of 1979, and expertly depicts Libyan culture and customs—the entire "world full of men and the greed of men"—as well. I'm normally not a fan of historical fiction, but as a world literature lover, I couldn't help but try this one. Even though it was a little difficult to get into, I am so, so glad I did. In the Country of Men is a gripping account, from a small boy's perspective, of Gaddafi's infamous terror regime. It shimmers in the triumphs and fumes in the horrors of the the Libyan revolution of 1979, and expertly depicts Libyan culture and customs—the entire "world full of men and the greed of men"—as well. I found this a shocking, affecting read, and be forewarned: this book hits hard and will leave bruises. There are a several difficult issues tackled in Suleiman's first-person narrative, each coated with a blasé haze of childish charm. The exterior ones among these, include gender inequality and societal persecution, but Hisham Matar dares to venture deeper as the story spins around the values of family, friendship, nationalism, and the definition of loyalty. He portrays in deliberate precision and indelicacy, the oppression of not only women, but also of humans and human rights; this is all poignant, truthful, and startlingly refreshing. Facets of the narrator's childhood make him the most vulnerable, and yet most potent character. Most of the other characters are shallow or, as with the central themes, influenced by Suleiman's innocence and lack of awareness, but they are nevertheless lyrically and memorably described. I'll admit this book was a bit slow for first half, but the second half blew me away. In the Country of Men is not the sort of book I'll soon forget. Hisham Matar has woven a brilliant novel on what it is to be family, what it means to grow up, and what it takes to be free, because they are all—the author claims—achievable aspirations... but only to few, in the land of men. Pros Raw, uncensored // Stunning literary style with both graceful and repulsive notes // Fascinating perspective of Gaddafi's Libya // Impressive stylistically, historically, and culturally // Mesmerizing and haunting // Unforgettable Cons Slow-moving start // Dry at times Love I am in love with the way Matar writes: If love starts somewhere, if it is a hidden force that is brought out by a person, like light off a mirror, for me that person was her. There was anger, there was pity, even the dark warm embrace of hate, but always love and always the joy that surrounds the beginning of love. Grief loves the hollow, all it wants is to hear its own echo. Be careful. [In me], there is this void, this emptiness I am trying to get at like someone frightened of the dark, searching for a match to strike. I see it in others, this emptiness. My expression shifts constantly, like that of a prostitute who waits in your car while you run across a busy road to buy a new pack of cigarettes for the night. When you walk back, ripping the cellophane, before she has time to see you, you catch sight of her, temporarily settled in another role as a sister or a wife or a friend. How readily and thinly we procure these fictional selves, deceiving the world and what we might have become if only we hadn't got in the way, if only we had waited to see what might have become of us. Verdict Hisham Matar's literary debut glitters in the backdrop of 1979 Tripoli and lingers in the yearning mind. Every so often you pick up a book so resonating and so captive of emotional truth, that it sends shivers down your spine and leaves an ache in your chest. In the Country of Men is one of those books. Rating: 8 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): An engaging read; highly recommended. Source: Complimentary copy provided by TripFiction in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alanoodfq Al-Thani

    If you know me, you’ll know that I love ME literature. I finally found another favorite to put with ‘Seasons Migration to the North’ and ‘Cities of Salt.‘ I enjoyed reading this book. I’ve never read about the Libyan revolution and this was a nice introduction to the era. It was full of suspense, innocence, struggle between different levels of patriarchal rule and role of women. Gain and loss of friendships,acceptance of past and future and wretchedness of uncontrollable circumstances. Including If you know me, you’ll know that I love ME literature. I finally found another favorite to put with ‘Seasons Migration to the North’ and ‘Cities of Salt.‘ I enjoyed reading this book. I’ve never read about the Libyan revolution and this was a nice introduction to the era. It was full of suspense, innocence, struggle between different levels of patriarchal rule and role of women. Gain and loss of friendships,acceptance of past and future and wretchedness of uncontrollable circumstances. Including beautiful passages by the author. I find it to be an important addition to ME Literature. After reading about the author, I sense that the book encompasses a lot from his personal life. Which makes me wonder how fictional is the story.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marcy prager

    The young son of two parents witnesses the abduction and public hanging of his next door neighbor, the father of his best friend. He also witnesses the arrest of his father. Both men were found to be treasonous against a regime of terror, the regime of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Suleiman spent days and nights, comforting his mother, and hating his mother, for the illness that took her over when her husband was not home. This illness, the reader soon discovers, is alcoholism. It is in this state The young son of two parents witnesses the abduction and public hanging of his next door neighbor, the father of his best friend. He also witnesses the arrest of his father. Both men were found to be treasonous against a regime of terror, the regime of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Suleiman spent days and nights, comforting his mother, and hating his mother, for the illness that took her over when her husband was not home. This illness, the reader soon discovers, is alcoholism. It is in this state that Suleiman learns about the "prison" his mother lived in before she was married. Under the influence of alcohol, Suleiman's mom reveals the secrets of her life to him at night. She was whipped by her father for having cappucino with a young man and kept in her room without books for a month. Her father married her off to a man she did not know or love. She had one child she tried desperately not to have. Is it a wonder that Suleiman wanted to protect his mother, and at the same time, run away from her? Suleiman is forced to become a man before his age, but in doing so, he pays a high price. He is angry; he takes out his anger on his best friend, his mother, and others. He makes it clear he is too young to face his mother's illness, the terror that runs through his neighborhood, the abduction of his father, and the beaten up "monster" who is released and comes home. While Suleiman's mother and father rebuild their lives with love, he is left with the crosses of the past to bear. His own anger will not permit him to feel emotions. There is Suleiman's constant mention of the blinding sun that leaves the land white with shadows of people upon it. When we read about political brutality, we most often read about it from the perspectives of adults. This story is told from the perspective of a child, a child who is trying to figure out the meaning of betrayal, good, and evil. As he tries to sort out the nightmare that envelops him, Suleiman acts upon his own goodness and evil throughout the story. This was troubling to read, an emotional experience that would not allow me to fall asleep some nights.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lucinda

    So this is the latest in a string of books I have read recently where the story is told from the perspective of a child (though somewhat confusingly, this is told back by an adult about a period in his childhood). At first I was totally impressed with this device for telling a story in a new and interesting way, but now it is starting to feel old. This is a heartbreaking story with some really powerful and painful segments in the retelling of a young boy (only 9 years old) who experiences the So this is the latest in a string of books I have read recently where the story is told from the perspective of a child (though somewhat confusingly, this is told back by an adult about a period in his childhood). At first I was totally impressed with this device for telling a story in a new and interesting way, but now it is starting to feel old. This is a heartbreaking story with some really powerful and painful segments in the retelling of a young boy (only 9 years old) who experiences the madness of Qaddafi's regime 10 years after his removal of King Idris in 1969. The revolutionary rhetoric is getting old and pockets of resistance and rebellion bubble up, only to be dealt with ruthlessly and brutally. Suleiman's father is one in a small group calling for democratic reforms. The story follows Suleiman's attempt to comprehend what is going on from the point where one of his father's group is taken into custody with Qaddafi's men attempting to grab his father as well. Suleiman doesn't really question the rhetoric of the regime, like most children his understanding of good and bad in people is connected to his instinctive reactions when he interacts with them. Much of what is going on with his father is kept from him, and so we experience his intense frustration in trying to understand the behaviour of the adults around him. In particular Suleiman is dragged into the whirlpool of emotions that his mother is dealing with, in her attempts to make things happen or not happen. Having been given away in marriage at a young age (cringe here for the trope of oppressed women in the middle east) she tells her son the stories of Scheherazade. when her son says he thinks Scheherazade a hero for her ability to prevent her impending doom the mother replies that Scheherazade was a coward who accepted slavery over death. These words come back throughout the book as the events unfold. Matar's prose perfectly suits the feel of the story as it occurs in a series of slow days endured in Libyan heat and stands in stark contrast to the violence, urgency and life and death quality of the events which are occurring just beyond the scope of Suleiman's awareness.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jenni Van Huyssteen

    WOW. Having lived in Libya and heard the stories of the horrors of life under Gaddafi from my Libyan friends, I was very keen to read this book about that life, as seen through the eyes of a child. Hisham Matar certainly did not disappoint. He tells the story simply, as a child of 9 would, sometimes not understanding what is actually going on under the surface of the life he is used to. He simply accepts that his father is a "businessman" who travels a lot, and that his mother often needs WOW. Having lived in Libya and heard the stories of the horrors of life under Gaddafi from my Libyan friends, I was very keen to read this book about that life, as seen through the eyes of a child. Hisham Matar certainly did not disappoint. He tells the story simply, as a child of 9 would, sometimes not understanding what is actually going on under the surface of the life he is used to. He simply accepts that his father is a "businessman" who travels a lot, and that his mother often needs "medicine" to get her through the day when his father is away. He doesn't take much notice of the inconsistencies in his parents' lives - until the day their next door neighbour gets arrested. Quickly the life he knows starts unravelling - and he along with it. I was held enthralled by the events as they unfold, sort of the same way a mouse is enthralled by a snake about to pounce. The author really draws you into the story, and you feel like you are right there alongside Suleiman every step of the way. The story is moving, enthralling - and chilling. I am so glad that Libyans no longer have to live in such fear, but are finally FREE of the tyrant who ruled their lives for so long!! My only criticism - and the reason why I only give this book 4 stars and not 5 - is that the author ends the book rather unsatisfactorily, to my way of thinking - as though he didnt know how to end it...I am all for the "sting in the tail" kind of ending - but this one just seems to trail away, instead of ending.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    It is the summer of 1979 in Tripoli, Libya, and the narrator of this novel remembers a boyhood year in which his life is forever changed by the repressive regime of Col. Quaddafi's revolutionary government. Little aware of what is going on around him, the boy struggles to understand the strange behavior of his father, who as we learn is an educated businessman with democratic aspirations for his country. Left for long periods of time alone with his mother, the boy puzzles over signs of her It is the summer of 1979 in Tripoli, Libya, and the narrator of this novel remembers a boyhood year in which his life is forever changed by the repressive regime of Col. Quaddafi's revolutionary government. Little aware of what is going on around him, the boy struggles to understand the strange behavior of his father, who as we learn is an educated businessman with democratic aspirations for his country. Left for long periods of time alone with his mother, the boy puzzles over signs of her growing anxiety during a government crackdown on dissidents. As she talks with him, we begin to understand her own story of being forcibly married against her will at the age of fourteen. Swept up in heightening waves of dread, the reader is taken by the novel into a sunlit nightmare of surveillance, torture, and public executions. Given to casual acts of cruelty himself, the boy is portrayed unsentimentally, and it's possible to connect all the novel's acts of disregard for humanity along a single spectrum. At the end, fifteen years later, the narrator looks back with regret at a life interrupted by political forces that have left him distrustful and alienated. It is a story that could be told by many in a world where authoritarian governments hold power and people in the hundreds of thousands have been uprooted from their homelands.

  28. 4 out of 5

    K.

    This book is set in Libya, and tells the story of a young boy growing up in Tripoli in the 1970s, learning that his parents are actual people with actual lives and actual flaws. Learning that his actions have very serious ramifications. Learning that the world is much bigger than he thinks it is. It's a difficult book to read in a lot of ways, and a frustrating book in others because being told through the eyes of a nine year old, there are a lot of serious issues that aren't really covered in This book is set in Libya, and tells the story of a young boy growing up in Tripoli in the 1970s, learning that his parents are actual people with actual lives and actual flaws. Learning that his actions have very serious ramifications. Learning that the world is much bigger than he thinks it is. It's a difficult book to read in a lot of ways, and a frustrating book in others because being told through the eyes of a nine year old, there are a lot of serious issues that aren't really covered in sufficient depth. So I'm glad I read it. And it was pretty compelling. But I think ultimately it will prove to be pretty forgettable...

  29. 4 out of 5

    peter

    Not bad -- similar in subject but a hell of a lot better than that contrived, unconvincing best selling rubbish, The Kite Runner. It's a story about a boy growing in Libya in the midst of feeble efforts to mount political opposition to the regime. As his father and friends attempt to meet, read "subversive" literature about democracy, and so forth, his mother, forced early into an arid marriage drinks illegally and self-demeaningly, and the boy learns some of the debased, treacherous ways of the Not bad -- similar in subject but a hell of a lot better than that contrived, unconvincing best selling rubbish, The Kite Runner. It's a story about a boy growing in Libya in the midst of feeble efforts to mount political opposition to the regime. As his father and friends attempt to meet, read "subversive" literature about democracy, and so forth, his mother, forced early into an arid marriage drinks illegally and self-demeaningly, and the boy learns some of the debased, treacherous ways of the society.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    "I am recalling now that last summer before I was sent away. It was 1979, and the sun was everywhere. Tripoli lay brilliant and still beneath it. Every person, animal and ant went in desperate search for shade, those occasional grey patches of mercy carved into the white of everything. But true mercy only arrived at night, a breeze chilled by the vacant desert, moistened by the humming sea, a reluctant guest silently passing through the empty streets, vague about how far it was allowed to roam "I am recalling now that last summer before I was sent away. It was 1979, and the sun was everywhere. Tripoli lay brilliant and still beneath it. Every person, animal and ant went in desperate search for shade, those occasional grey patches of mercy carved into the white of everything. But true mercy only arrived at night, a breeze chilled by the vacant desert, moistened by the humming sea, a reluctant guest silently passing through the empty streets, vague about how far it was allowed to roam in this realm of the absolute star." In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the 2006 Booker (won by Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss) as well as the Guardian First Book award. It is narrated by Suleiman, whose father is involved in the pro-democracy movement in Gaddafi's Libya in 1979, a country with Revolutionary Committees performing ideological surveillance and encouraging revolutionary fervour. Suleiman is aged 9 at the time of most of the events in the novel, although writing from exile in Egypt aged 24 (the story has some elements from the author's own background, Matar's family fled from Libya to Egypt in 1979, but is certainly not autobiographical fiction). One weakness of the novel is that the narrative voice seems unsure whether it is that of a 9 year old boy, with the naivety that would imply, or that of the 24 year old interpreting events in the light of his greater maturity and perspective. It aims, I think, for the former but rather lapses into the latter - for example, politics and sex even aside, the below doesn't really ring true in either voice: "I never asked to play the piano. It was one of those activities imposed upon me, like school, chess and the infinitely recurring, and therefore seemingly pointless, clipping of toenails and fingernails. All of which, under the general disadvantage of being a boy, I had to carry out with the necessary degress of earnestness." The novel is more successful in creating a strong sense of time and place - both the Orwellian world of Gaddafi's state and the blazing heat of the Libyan summer. And while Matar wrote the novel is English, but his language, in his own phrase, has "an Arabic hum" including the use of phrases such as "walk by the wall" (stay out of trouble), and "putting people behind the sun" (killing or at least disappearing enemies of the state). The triangular relationship between Suleiman, his mother (aged only 24) and his much older father is also played out well. His mother was forced into marriage and at times seems closer to Suleiman than to her husband (as she is in age), although Suleiman also notes that "Mama liked to refer to her relatives but how they were related to me: her father was 'your grandfather', her brother 'your uncle'. It made me feel responsible, as if I were to blame for their actions." His father's political stance, however worthy, has consequences for his family and friends - on two occasions fathers of those involved in his cause tell him "you have ruined my son", and the same worry is implicit in he and his wife's decision to ultimately send Suleiman away, as foreshadowed in the opening line of the book. And this foreshadowing highlights one weakness of the book - we know what is going to happen to the 9 year old boy, and the last 11 pages are really just an extended "what happened next to all the characters" postscript. Overall a quick read but not particularly notworthy.

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