In The Country of Men
By Hisham Matar
Completed June 26, 2011
Young Suleiman is nine years old when Libya is taken over by dictator, Muammar el-Qaddafi, in 1979. Having a modern eye knowledge of Qaddafi’s reign provides a foreboding insight into the lives and choices in Hisham Matar’s debut novel, In The Country of Men. Told from the perspective of Suleiman, readers learn about the harsh political realties of living in Libya during Qaddafi’s early years.
Suleiman is an only child – an object of affection but remorse for his mother, who was forced into marriage at 14 when seen in a cafe with a boy her age. Suleiman’s father is aloof, living a double life as a political activist that would eventually catch up to his family. Through Suleiman’s eyes, we see how Qaddafi’s reign brought terror to many families, as fathers were whisked off in cars and telephone lines were tapped. Suleiman’s family was not excluded, and he becomes confused about why his father is lying about what he does for a living.
Matar’s writing style is pitch perfect, especially with a narrator so young. Very readable, In The Country of Men will make you cringe and shake your head at what is unfolding in Suleiman’s life. The whole time, though, you root for Suleiman, hoping he and his family can somehow escape unscathed.
With the current political activity in Libya, this book is very telling and offers insight into how Libya has become the country it is today. I congratulate Hisham Matar for continuing to write about Libya, despite his personal tragedies. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, thrilling book, I highly recommend In The Country of Men. ( )