Thursday, January 01, 2009
In the Country of Men
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.
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