In the Country of Men

( 13 )

Overview

"On a white-hot day in Tripoli, Libya, in the summer of 1979, nine-year-old Suleiman is shopping in the market square with his mother. His father is away on business - but Suleiman is sure he has just seen him, standing across the street in a pair of dark glasses. But why isn't he waving? And why doesn't he come over when he knows Suleiman's mother is falling apart?" Whispers and fears intensify around Suleiman: his best friend's father disappears and is next seen being interrogated on state television; a man parks his car outside the house every ...
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In the Country of Men

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Overview

"On a white-hot day in Tripoli, Libya, in the summer of 1979, nine-year-old Suleiman is shopping in the market square with his mother. His father is away on business - but Suleiman is sure he has just seen him, standing across the street in a pair of dark glasses. But why isn't he waving? And why doesn't he come over when he knows Suleiman's mother is falling apart?" Whispers and fears intensify around Suleiman: his best friend's father disappears and is next seen being interrogated on state television; a man parks his car outside the house every day and asks strange questions; and his mother frantically burns his father's books. As Suleiman begins to wonder whether his father has disappeared for good, it feels as if the walls of his home will break with the secrets that are being held within.

Finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Matar's debut is the moving story of nine-year-old Suleiman, a resident of Qaddafi's Libya in the late 1970s. Suleiman's father has a problem: His name is on a list of people the Revolutionary Committee wants to interrogate. But when he is supposedly away on business, Suleiman sees him in town, albeit disguised. Shortly thereafter, Suleiman's mother collects all of his father's books for burning, their next-door neighbor is abducted and interrogated on TV, and a stranger sits in a parked car, watching Suleiman's house.

The uncertainty of Suleiman's world is most acute in his relationship with his mother and the toll her mysterious "illness" takes on her. Her behavior is unpredictable -- one minute she's asleep in her room, the next, she's animated and whispers dark secrets to her only son. Such instability affects Suleiman in disturbing ways, and he finds himself capable of a shocking level of cruelty and betrayal.

Matar's writing is succinct, filled with the incongruous details a child would notice, and describes horrific events with an innocent's lack of judgment. In the Country of Men, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is stunningly claustrophic: a novel that captures the overwhelming feelings of a lonely, vulnerable child yet is filled with a rare vision of a troubled time and country. (Spring 2007 Selection)
Ron Charles
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"?
— The Washington Post
Lorraine Adams
In the Country of Men brings to mind 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and the other great science fiction of totalitarianism in the way it posits a cruelly simplified and nonsensical universe. The young boy who is its first-person narrator can only sometimes make this world coherent … Matar’s understanding may feel so refined because it’s distilled from the long contemplation of his own experiences. Like the narrator, he was born in 1970 and last saw Libya in 1979. His father, a dissident former diplomat exiled in Egypt, was kidnapped there in 1990 and imprisoned and tortured in Tripoli. He was last heard from in 1995. Qaddafi’s regime imprisoned or hanged three of Matar’s cousins, an uncle and several friends. In interviews and in his writing, he maintains a public composure. As a novelist, his self-control is impressive.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, Matar's debut novel tracks the effects of Libyan strongman Khadafy's 1969 September revolution on the el-Dawani family, as seen by nine-year-old Suleiman, who narrates as an adult. Living in Tripoli 10 years after the revolution with his parents and spending lazy summer days with his best friend, Kareem, Suleiman has his world turned upside down when the secret police-like Revolutionary Committee puts the family in its sights-though Suleiman does not know it, his father has spoken against the regime and is a clandestine agitator-along with families in the neighborhood. When Kareem's father is arrested as a traitor, Suleiman's own father appears to be next. The ensuing brutality resonates beyond the bloody events themselves to a brutalizing of heart and mind for all concerned. Matar renders it brilliantly, as well as zeroing in on the regime's reign of terror itself: mock trials, televised executions, neighbors informing on friends, persecution mania in those remaining. By the end, Suleiman's father must either renounce the cause or die for it, and Suleiman faces the aftermath of conflicts (including one with Kareem) that have left no one untouched. Suleiman's bewilderment speaks volumes. Matar wrests beauty from searing dread and loss. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Set in 1979, this affecting first novel tells the story of Suleiman, a Libyan boy whose family and friends are targeted as antirevolutionaries by the repressive government of Muammar Qaddafi, known to his people as the Guardian. In this waking nightmare of how the government sows fear, turning its subjects against one another, men are arrested or disappear; one is eliminated in a horrifying public execution before a gleeful stadium crowd-an event broadcast live on television. Only nine years old, Suleiman grapples with understanding who the real traitors are, and he finds himself guilty of betraying his friends in an environment of suspicion in which the government monitors every movement and conversation. Most memorable in this beautifully written book is the relationship between Suleiman and his young mother. Suleiman wants to save her from the depressions that plague her in a country hostile not only to her husband's political beliefs but also to her gender: she still suffers the loss of her dreams after entering an arranged marriage at 15. Matar portrays their relationship in intimate, realistic, and heartbreaking scenes. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/06; this book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.-Ed.]-Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School
This is the story of the impact of small revolutions, not on the men and women who participate in the upheavals, but on the children who barely understand the world in which they find themselves. Suleiman is a nine-year-old in Qaddafi's Libya, proud of his country and his father, and worried about his mother's "illness." He is unprepared to understand the danger his father, a believer in democracy, is in, or the role that he, just a child, must play to protect his family. What is most disturbing is that he must play the games of adults, but without knowing the rules. There is no heroism here, only fear, betrayal, and mistrust. This is a difficult book: the characters are fatally flawed, the plot revels in the gray area of a child's memories and immature perceptions, and in the end there is little redemption. The plot unfolds credibly through the boy's eyes, and it is readers who shed light on the secrets. There is no judgment, and yet there is a heavy patina of guilt in the narrative. Well written, with evocative descriptions of heat and landscape that intensify readers' experience, the story lingers long after the book is closed. Teens serious about understanding the complex nature of patriotism will find much to ponder here.
—Mary Ann HarlanCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this intriguing debut by a Libyan expatriate spotlights a Libyan family buffeted by a repressive regime. The Qaddafi dictatorship is seen through the eyes of an only child, nine-year-old Suleiman. He lives with his Mama and Baba (father) in Tripoli; the year is 1979. Baba has international business interests; while he's traveling, Mama becomes "ill" and takes her "medicine" (alcohol provided, illegally, by the baker). It's not the happiest of marriages. It was arranged by her family after she was seen with a boy at a coffeehouse. She was only 14 and Baba a total stranger on that "black day" they wed. Her plight weighs heavily on Suleiman, but soon he will have more to worry about. Their neighbor Ustath Rashid, a university teacher and father of his best friend Kareem, is taken away by government agents on suspicion of betraying the regime; Mama, opposed to political activism, now shuns her neighbors and Suleiman, hating himself, breaks with Kareem. Baba is the regime's next target; frantically, Mama burns all his beloved books. Matar precisely captures Suleiman's bewilderment as his world falls apart. He's afraid of the goon parked outside their door, but like the other kids is attracted to the power that radiates from another neighbor, Jafer, a top security official. Mama, practicing "the dark art of submission," appeals to Jafer to save Baba. Her entreaties work. Baba is returned home, beaten up but with no broken bones. Their erstwhile neighbor is less fortunate. In the novel's most riveting scene, he is hanged in front of a cheering crowd, a TV spectacular. So, state terror is now added to the Koran and the tales of Scheherazade as one ofSuleiman's formative influences. Some loose ends and a rushed postscript showing Suleiman's later life in Cairo are minor problems. A tender-hearted account, winning in its simplicity, of a childhood infected too soon by the darkness of adults.
From the Publisher
"Wonderfully original…. Brings to mind 1984 and Fahrenheit 451." —-New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400134182
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2007
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs. 30 min.
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

"From the Hardcover edition."

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Read an Excerpt

1

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 gray 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. And it was rising now, this star, as faithful as ever, chasing away the blessed breeze. It was almost morning.

The window in her bedroom was wide open, the glue tree outside it silent, its green shy in the early light. She hadn't fallen asleep until the sky was gray with dawn. And even then I was so rattled I couldn't leave her side, wondering if, like one of those hand puppets that play dead, she would bounce up again, light another cigarette and continue begging me, as she had been doing only minutes before, not to tell, not to tell. Baba never found out about Mama's illness; she only fell ill when he was away on business. It was as if, when the world was empty of him, she and I remained as stupid reminders, empty pages that had to be filled with the memory of how they had come to be married.

I sat watching her beautiful face, her chest rise and fall with breath, unable to leave her side, hearing the things she had just told me swim and repeat in my head.

Eventually I left her and went to bed.

When she woke up she came to me. I felt her weight sink beside me, then her fingers in my hair. The sound of her fingernails on my scalp reminded me of once when I was unlucky. I had thrown a date in my mouth before splitting it open, only discovering it was infested with ants when their small shell bodies crackled beneath my teeth. I lay there silent, pretending to be asleep, listening to her breath disturbed by tears.

During breakfast I tried to say as little as possible. My silence made her nervous. She talked about what we might have for lunch. She asked if I would like some jam or honey. I said no, but she went to the fridge and got some anyway. Then, as was usual on the mornings after she had been ill, she took me on a drive to pull me out of my silence, to return me to myself again.

Waiting for the car to warm up, she turned on the radio, skipped through the dial and didn't stop until she heard the beautiful voice of Abd al-Basit Abd al-Sammad. I was glad because, as everyone knows, one must refrain from speaking and listen humbly to the Koran when it is read.

Just before we turned into Gergarish Street, the street that follows the sea, Bahloul the beggar appeared out of nowhere. Mama hit the brakes and said ya satir. He wandered over to her side, walking slowly, clasping his dirty hands tightly to his stomach, his lips quivering. "Hello, Bahloul," Mama said, rummaging in her purse. "I see you, I see you," he said, and although these were the words Bahloul most often uttered, this time I thought what an idiot Bahloul is and wished he would just vanish. I watched him in the side mirror standing in the middle of the street, clutching the money Mama had given him to his chest like a man who has just caught a butterfly.

She took me downtown to the sesame man in the market by Martyrs' Square, the square that looked on to the sea, the square where a sculpture of Septimius Severus, the Roman emperor born all those years ago in Lepcis, proudly stood. She bought me as many sesame sticks as I wanted, each wrapped in white wax paper twisted at either end. I refused to let her put them in her bag. On such mornings I was always stubborn. "But I have some more shopping to do," she said. "You're bound to drop them like this." "No," I said, curling my eyebrows, "I'll wait for you outside," and walked off angrily, not caring if I lost her or became lost from her in the big city. "Listen," she called after me, attracting people's attention. "Wait for me by Septimius Severus."

There was a large café on one side that spilled out on to the passageway. Men, some faces I recognized from before, sat playing dominoes and cards. Their eyes were on Mama. I wondered if her dress shouldn't be looser.

As I walked away from her I felt my power over her recede; I began to feel sorry and sad how on such mornings she was always generous and embarrassed shy, as if she had walked out naked. I wanted to run to her, to hold her hand, latch on to her dress as she shopped and dealt with the world, a world full of men and the greed of men. I forced myself not to look back and focused instead on the shops set within arched bays on either side of the covered passageway. Black silk scarves billowed gently above one, columns of stacked red caps stood as tall as men outside another. The ceiling was made with dark strips of fabric. The white blades of light that pierced through the occasional gaps illuminated the swimming dust and shone still and beautiful on the arches and floor, but darted like sparkles on the heads and down the bodies of the passersby, making the shadows seem much darker than they were.

Outside, the square was flooded with sunlight. The ground was almost white with brightness, making the dark shoes and figures crossing it look like things floating above the world. I wished I had left the sesame sticks with her. Small needles were now pricking my arms. I told myself off for being stubborn and for letting her buy me so many. I looked at them in my arms and felt no appetite for them.

I leaned against the cool marble pedestal of Septimius Severus. The Roman emperor stood above me, his silver-studded belt curving below his belly, pointing his arm toward the sea, "Urging Libya to look toward Rome," was how Ustath Rashid described the pose. Ustath Rashid taught art history at el-Fateh University and was my best friend Kareem's father. I remembered our Guide standing in one of his military uniforms like this, waving his arm as the tanks passed in front of him on Revolution Day.

I turned toward the sea, the shining turquoise sea beyond the square. It seemed like a giant blue monster rising at the edge of the world. "Grrr," I growled, then wondered if anyone had heard me. I kicked my heel against the pedestal several times. I stared at the ground, into the heat and brightness that made me want to sleep with my eyes open. But then, not looking for but falling directly on my target, I spotted Baba.

He was standing on the edge of the pavement in a street opposite the square, looking both ways for traffic, arching forward as if he was about to fall. Before he stepped on to the road he motioned with his hand then snapped his fingers twice. It was a gesture that I knew. Sometimes he would wave to me like that, as if to say, "Come on, come on," then snap his fingers, "Hey, wake up." Behind him appeared Nasser, Baba's office clerk, carrying a small shiny black typewriter beneath his arm, struggling to keep up. Baba was already crossing the street, walking toward me. For a moment I thought he might be bringing Nasser to Septimius Severus, to teach him all the things he had taught me about the Roman emperor, Lepcis Magna and Rome. For Baba regarded Nasser as a younger brother, he often said so himself.

"Baba?" I whispered.

Two dark lenses curved like the humpbacks of turtles over his eyes. The sky, the sun and the sea were painted by God in colors we could all point at and say the sea is turquoise, the sun banana, the sky blue. Sunglasses are terrible, I thought, because they change all of this and keep those who wear them at a distance. At that moment I remembered how, only a couple of days ago, he had kissed us good-bye. "May God bring you back safely," Mama told him, "and make your trip profitable." I had kissed his hand like he taught me to. He had leaned down and whispered in my ear, "Take care of your mother, you are the man of the house now," and grinned at me in the way people do when they think they have paid you a compliment. But look now, look; walking where I could touch him, here where we should be together. My heart quickened. He was coming closer. Maybe he means me, I thought. It was impossible to see his eyes.

I watched him walk in that familiar way-his head pointing up slightly, his polished leather shoes flicking ahead with every step-hoping he would call my name, wave his hand, snap his fingers. I swear if he had I would have leaped into his arms. When he was right there, close enough that if I extended my arm I could touch him, I held my breath and my ears filled with silence. I watched his solemn expression-an expression I admired and feared-caught the scent-edge of his cologne, felt the air swell round him as he walked past. He was immediately followed by Nasser, carrying the black shiny typewriter under one arm. I wished I was him, following Baba like a shadow. They entered one of the buildings overlooking the square. It was a white building with green shutters. Green was the color of the revolution, but you rarely saw shutters painted in it. "Didn't I tell you to wait by the sculpture?" I heard Mama say from behind me. I looked back and saw that I had strayed far from Septimius Severus.

I felt sick, anxious that I had somehow done the wrong thing. Baba wasn't on a business trip, but here, in Tripoli, where we should be together. I could have reached out and caught him from where he was heading; why had I not acted?

I sat in the car while she loaded the shopping, still holding on to the sesame sticks. I looked up at the building Baba and Nasser had entered. A window on the top floor shuddered, then swung open. Baba appeared through it. He gazed at the square, no longer wearing the sunglasses, leaning with his hands on the sill like a leader waiting for the clapping and chanting to stop. He hung a small red towel on the clothesline and disappeared inside.

On the way home I was more silent than before, and this time there was no effort in it. As soon as we left Martyrs' Square Mama began craning her neck toward the rearview mirror. Stopping at the next traffic light, she whispered a prayer to herself. A car stopped so close beside us I could have touched the driver's cheek. Four men dressed in dark safari suits sat looking at us. At first I didn't recognize them, then I remembered. I remembered so suddenly I felt my heart jump. They were the same Revolutionary Committee men who had come a week before and taken Ustath Rashid.

Mama looked ahead, her back a few centimeters away from the backrest, her fists tight around the steering wheel. She released one hand, brought it to my knee and sternly whispered, "Face forward."

When the traffic light turned green, the car beside us didn't move. Everyone knows you mustn't overtake a Revolutionary Committee car, and if you have to, then you must do it discreetly, without showing any pleasure in it. A few cars, unaware of who was parked beside us, began to sound their horns. Mama drove off slowly, looking more at the rearview mirror than the road ahead. Then she said, "They are following us; don't look back." I stared at my bare knees and said the same prayer over and over. I felt the sweat gather between my palms and the wax-paper wrapping of the sesame sticks. It wasn't until we were almost home that Mama said, "OK, they are gone," then mumbled to herself, "Nothing better to do than give us an escort, the rotten rats." My heart eased and my back grew taller. The prayer left my lips.

The innocent, Sheikh Mustafa, the imam of our local mosque, had told me, have no cause to fear; only the guilty live in fear.

I didn't help her carry the shopping into the house as was usual. I went straight to my room and dropped the sesame sticks on the bed, shaking the blood back into my arms. I grabbed my picture book on Lepcis Magna. Ten days before I had visited the ancient city for the first and, as it turned out, last time. Images of the deserted city of ruins by the sea still lingered vividly in my mind. I longed to return to it.

I didn't come out until I had to: after she had prepared lunch and set the table and called my name.

When she tore the bread, she handed me a piece; and I, noticing she hadn't had any salad, passed her the salad bowl. Midway through the meal she got up and turned on the radio. She left it on a man talking about farming the desert. I got up, said, "Bless your hands," and went to my room. "I will take a nap," she said after me. My silence made her say things she didn't need to say, she always took a nap in the afternoons, everyone did, everyone except me. I never could nap.

I waited in my room until she had finished washing the dishes and putting away the food, until I was certain she had gone to sleep, then I came out.

I was walking around the house looking for something to do when the telephone rang. I ran to it before it could wake her up. It was Baba. On hearing his voice my heart quickened. I thought he must be calling so soon after I had seen him to explain why he hadn't greeted me.

"Where are you?"

"Abroad. Let me speak to your mother."

"Where abroad?"

"Abroad," he repeated, as if it was obvious where that was. "I'll be home tomorrow."

"I miss you,"

"Me too. Call your mother."

"She's asleep. Shall I wake her up?"

"Just let her know I'll be home tomorrow, about lunch-time."

I didn't want the conversation to end so I said, "We were followed today by that same white car that took Ustath Rashid. We were side by side at the traffic light and I saw their faces. I was so close I could have touched the driver's cheek and I wasn't frightened. Not at all. Not even a little, I wasn't."

"I'll see you tomorrow," he said and hung up.

I stood for a while beside the telephone and listened to the thick silence that seemed to descend on our house during those hours in the afternoon, a silence edged by the humming of the fridge in the kitchen and the ticking of the clock in the hallway. I went to watch Mama sleep. I sat beside her, checking first that her chest was rising and falling with breath. I remembered the words she had told me the night before, "We are two halves of the same soul, two open pages of the same book," words that felt like a gift I didn't want.

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Reading Group Guide

Taking us to a time and place rarely glimpsed in fiction, Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men captures life in Libya in the wake of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s revolution. Through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy named Suleiman, we watch a family struggle for survival in a climate of deadly political suspicion. Against a backdrop of innocent childhood rituals—playing games with his best friends, learning his country’s history on visits to the ruins surrounding Tripoli—Suleiman is also awakened to dangers he cannot comprehend. When his father is brutally interrogated and his best friend’s father disappears, Suleiman arrives at a crossroads that will shatter his understanding of home and homelands.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of In the Country of Men. We hope they will enrich your experience of this powerful novel.|

1. What is the effect of reading about this episode in history through a child’s point of view? What clarity does it bring? In what ways do a child’s impulses muddy the truth?

2. What does Suleiman learn about the roles of men and women as his mother continually reminds him of her arranged marriage? How have his impressions of gender been shaped by this knowledge? What determines whether she feels safe or victimized in her marriage?

3. How would you characterize Muammar al-Qaddafi’s political rhetoric as it is captured in the novel? How was he able to overthrow a monarch without offering any promise of democracy? What makes fiction an ideal format for depicting these headlines?

4. How does Suleiman perceive his mother’s alcoholism? What distinctions exist between experiencing this addiction in the West and facing it in a locale where religious law forbids drinking?

5. Discuss the title of the novel: In the Country of Men. Do the women in Suleiman’s life have any true power, and if so, from where is it derived? What does he come to understand about the power hierarchies of Libyan men, and the reasons his father lost his social rank?

6. What had you previously known about Muammar al-Qaddafi and the effects of Italian colonization on Libya? As a supplement to your reading of In the Country of Men, discuss articles tracing Qaddafi’s unusual story, from being suspected of involvement in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, to his recent denunciation of the 9/11 terrorists and the U.S. State Department’s May 2006 removal of Libya from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Could the novel’s characters ever have predicted such an outcome?

7. What does the story of Moosa’s useless Polish tires (chapter seven) indicate about economics and entrepreneurship at that time? How did the citizens’ economic power crumble so swiftly, to the point that they were swindled out of their savings through the currency scheme described in chapter twenty-four?

8. Did Suleiman’s perception of Bahloul change between his early memories (particularly in chapter ten) to the incident when Bahloul nearly drowned, just before Suleiman’s departure for Cairo?

9. In chapter ten, what persuasive tools does Sharief use to win the cooperation of children? What is Suleiman’s understanding of the events he sees on television, culminating in the execution of Ustath Rashid? When is he able to reconcile the innocent images of noble men—such as the small gifts he would receive after his father traveled for business—with the horrific ones that dominate his mind in the novel’s later chapters?

10. What were your impressions of Suleiman’s place within his circle of friends? What was it like to see Osama used as an ordinary name for an ordinary little boy? How had Suleiman’s feelings toward his friends changed when he was reunited with them years later?

11. How would you respond to the “what-if” thoughts Suleiman expresses toward the end of chapter twenty-four? What might have become of him, of his father, of his beloved Siham, if he had never emigrated?

12. Discuss the notion of living as an expatriate. How did Suleiman cope with the knowledge that he could not safely go home again? How do such circumstances affect identity and sense of self?

13. How did Suleiman’s religious training shape his character and his understanding of the world?

14. How has Suleiman’s opinion of his mother changed by the time he reaches the novel’s closing scenes?

15. Discuss the notion of storytelling woven throughout the book. How are the characters influenced by Scheherazade and A Thousand and One Nights? How would you characterize the storytelling style of Suleiman’s mother? How does a book—Baba’s lone, dangerous tome saved from the fire—drive the plot of Hisham Matar’s book?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 21, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I'm normally not a fan of historical fiction, but as a world lit

    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

    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!).

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2012

    Very good.

    This story is well written and very informative for those not familiar with the long reign of repression and terror in Libya. Another book, Perla, written about the Argentine disappeared from the viewpoint of one of the stolen babies also an excellent read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2007

    Powerful story

    This very powerful and touching novel is not only revealing but also opens our minds to more questions, the most powerful of which is the problem of freedom in a land haunted by limited civil liberties and the strong man, a diseases that is still plaguing Africa today. From books like Union Moujik,Disciples of Fortune, Nervous Conditions, Wizard of the Crows, we get a vivid picture of living in societies that are not free.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2013

    Almost like A Kite Runner wannabe.

    I'm glad it was short, as it was a little depressing. I kept thinking of kite runner without the different story lines or the in depth characterizations. Not without merit though, as i underlined several thought provoking sentiments.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2012

    Not Recommended for readers seeking seeking elements of literary aesthetics

    Critically over hyped and pumped, this strange tale of Ghadafi's early regime narrated by a nine year old who is neither prescient not particularly intelligent let alone equipped with much perspective, this novel creates a fingernails up/down the blackboard tone rather than an ominousness the writer searches for. It alternates between the mawkish and irritation. Comparisons with "1984" and "Fahrenheit 451" are stretched. It never really achieves the level of madness, the refrain of the boy's alcoholic mother, or the allegorical horror and terror of Kafka or Orwell; or the "There is remedy" of Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" let alone its poetic rendition. Might play well in a learn to read class for late bloomers especially in the propaganda arm of the whiny leftist liberal movement in our unhappily dumbed down self-esteem hawking public school system. However, the add-on of excerpts from Matar's "Anatomy of a Disappearance" after the novel ended promise a much finer narrative written far more carefully.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2012

    Alright

    Ok

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