In the Country of Men is a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the effects of Libyan strongman Khadafy's 1969 September revolution. But above all, it is a debut of rare insight and literary grace.
Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleimans 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 fathers constant business trips abroad. But his nights have come to revolve around his mothers 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. Wasnt 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 understandwhere the sound of the telephone ringing becomes a portent of grave danger; where his mother frantically burns his fathers cherished books; where a stranger full of sinister questions sits outside in a parked car all day; where his best friends 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.
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...
Labeled by some as the "Libyan Kite Runner", In The Country of Men does share some similarities with Khaled Hosseini's runaway bestseller in that both are about young boys growing up in countries experiencing political implosion, with the result that their boy-sized mistakes take on adult-sized consequences; but Matar's prose is leaner than Hosseini's, and his themes share more with Ian McEwan's Atonement than with The Kite Runner. Matar's writing is arrestingly evocative, blending raw emotion with tiny, seemingly incongruous details seen through the eyes of a child, details that serve to fill the adult reader, who can interpret what the child sees in the wider context, with fear as he or she picks up the traces of impending doom lurking behind the innocuous.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (859 words).
A Short History of Libya
Libya is located on the Mediterranean coast in the North of Africa to the West of Egypt (map). Much of the country lies within the Sahara Desert but the coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate with arable land in the plateaus. The earliest known settlers of the area were the Berber people, known as Libyans to the Greeks. Around the 7th century BC the maritime culture known as Phoenicians or Canaanites colonized the eastern section of the country which they called Cyrenaica; and the Greeks colonized the west,...
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