- Fizzy Thoughts: In the Country of Men

In the Country of Men

Thursday, January 01, 2009



In the Country of Men
Hisham Matar
2006
246 pages

Last night I finished In the Country of Men, not to be confused with No Country for Old Men, which I haven't read (although I did see the movie). Neither one could be classified as a happy new year, bring out the champagne type of story, though. More like a train wreck waiting to happen (and I'm referring to the story, not the writing).

In the Country of Men is set in Libya in 1979, after Muammar al-Gaddafi, Leader and Guide of the Revolution, overthrew the monarchy and established the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Great Jamahiriya (aka Libya). I had to do a little research to brush up on my Libyan history, as the book doesn't give much background on what's going on. Although, since it's told from a child's perspective, that's appropriate.

Publisher Comments:

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.

I can honestly say I've never read a book set in Libya. Although there's not much Libya-ness happening here. In fact, I thought the book could have been set in any country where a repressive regime seizes power and is intolerant of dissent. The book actually reminded me a great deal of The Septembers of Shiraz, which is set in Iran. But some of the circumstances are very similar...especially when it comes to the fathers in both stories.

Anyways...it's an intriguing story, not very long, and it should leave you wanting to know more about Libya. If you like Middle Eastern literature, I'd recommend this book. And yes, I'm very aware Libya is in Africa, but I really think this book has more of a Middle Eastern feel to it. You should read it and let me know if you agree or disagree. :-D

5 comment(s):

Eva said...

This sounds interesting! I always think of Maghreb countries as part of the Middle East, not Africa, lol. And in my Middle East studies class, we studied them all, so there. ;P

Dreamybee said...

Libya always gets lumped into the Middle East in my mind too. The only thing I really know about Libyans is that Doc Brown conned them out of their plutonium because he needed a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electrical power necessary to make the flux capacitor work in his time machine...

...maybe I should read-up on Libya a little bit.

Dreamybee said...

Oh, also, I really like your new format!

Joanne said...

My mother in law is reading this one right now, she had recommended it quite highly. Although since I didn't even know Libya was in Africa perhaps I should read a bit about the history first.

Dar said...

This one sounds quite good. I really liked The Septembers of Shiraz so this one will be going on the list.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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