Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This 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 ritualsplaying games with
his best friends, learning his country's history on visits to the ruins
surrounding TripoliSuleiman 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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 mensuch as the small
gifts he would receive after his father traveled for businesswith the
horrific ones that dominate his mind in the novel's later chapters?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- How did Suleiman's religious training shape his character and his
understanding of the world?
- How has Suleiman's opinion of his mother changed by the time he reaches
the novel's closing scenes?
- 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 bookBaba's lone, dangerous tome saved from the firedrive the
plot of Hisham Matar's book?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Dell.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.