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In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

In the Country of Men (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Hisham Matar

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Title:In the Country of Men
Authors:Hisham Matar
Info:The Dial Press (2007), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Your library

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In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar (2006)


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English (47)  Dutch (2)  Norwegian (1)  Greek (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
In the Country of Men has been on my radar for a while, but I read it this month because it was the July choice for the ABC Radio National Africa Book Club.

I was disappointed in their book list, because nearly all the authors chosen are well-known expats rather than authors who actually live and write from within African countries. The book club was an opportunity to introduce less familiar authors and to support the fledgling African publishing industry, but unsurprisingly since the books were chosen by popular vote, it turns out that the list consists of well-known books by well-known authors who are published by global publishing companies. And while I don’t consciously read and review for gender balance, I was surprised to see only three books of the ten were by women, and the list didn’t include great feminist authors like Bessie Head and Amma Darko. And no Zakes Mda or Helon Habila!

OK, off my soapbox, what about the book, eh?

Hisham Matar was born in the US, and spent some of his childhood in Tripoli until political repression forced his family to take exile in Cairo. He moved to London when he was 16 and completed his education there.

In the Country of Men is the only book I’ve come across set in Libya and it was shortlisted for the 2006 Booker, so I ordered in a copy and read it over a couple of days. It’s a poignant coming-of-age story in which a nine-year-old narrator has to confront the tragedy of life under the dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The early chapters reveal Suleiman’s childhood, and his unusually intense relationship with his mother. An only child, he is her only compensation for an unhappy forced marriage, but he is not enough. When her much older husband Faraj is away ‘on business’ Najwa drinks herself into a stupor, and it’s a risky form of substance abuse because it’s not only against their religion, it’s also illegal. Suleiman thinks that she is ill at these times, and that the alcohol is medicine, and he feels protective towards her.

To read the rest of my review (which has some spoilers) please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2016/08/04/in-the-country-of-men-by-hisham-matar/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Aug 5, 2016 |
This is particularly good. He's obviously taken a lot of care over it and has ornamented the prose, especially at the beginning. It's not a particularly nice book. I googled the author and his father has been abducted by the old Libyan government so I didn't think it was going to be lambs and flowers.

The protagonist has no moral fibre - he's too young for that - and behaves with the mania of childhood, making stupid choices without thinking and betraying everyone. Cleverly, he symbolises Libya.

The ending is somewhat fragmented. This may be intentional as it might symbolise what the Libyan state does to people but I think it's a tactical error as it denies the book a final meaning. A small complaint though against a superb first novel. ( )
  Lukerik | Nov 26, 2015 |
"Children aren't supposed to know these things", 2 Aug. 2015

This review is from: In the Country of Men by Matar, Hisham (2006) Hardcover (Hardcover)
Tense and gripping narrative by a Libyan man as he recalls his nine-year old self in Tripoli, 1979, "that last summer before I was sent away." He vividly conjures up a sense of place: the heat, the Mediterranean, the street he lives in. But this is the era of repression under Gadaafi, and young Suleiman's wealthy businessman father is involved in the resistance.
He is aware - but not fully comprehending - of people being 'taken away', tapped phone calls, televised interrogations and hangings, the home being under constant surveillance; and of the effect this is having on his mother, who mysteriously becomes 'ill' whenever his father is away (we soon learn this is thanks to alcohol which she procures illegally.)
The world around him, the half-truths with which adults try to shield him from the reality, starts to brutalize the child too...
A powerful read. ( )
  starbox | Aug 2, 2015 |
The story of a Libyan family living in the midst of a repressive regime in 1979, told through the point of view of a nine-year-old boy. Original and evocative. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
Libya, 1979, 9 yr old boy see Father across square when he is supposedly away on business. Father is trying to overthrow Kadafi's rule. Story tells of fears of Big Brother Govt. and fears of women's place in Muslim society. Part of readings for "Muslim Journeys" at Chapin Library. ( )
  bereanna | Jan 10, 2015 |
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I am recalling now that last summer before I was sent away.
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"Publishing History:
Viking UK hardcover edition published 2006
Dial Press hardcover edition / February 2007" T.p. verso.
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Book description
On a white-hot day in Tripoli, Libya, in the summer of 1979, nine-year-old Suleiman is shopping in the market square with his mother. His father is away on business - but Suleiman is sure he has just seen him, standing across the street in a pair of dark glasses. But whiy isn't he waving? And why doesn't he come over when he knows Suleiman's mother is falling apart?

Whispers and fears intensify around Suleiman: his best friend's father disappears and is next seen being interrogated on state television; a man parks his car outside the house every day and asks strange questions; and his mother frantically burns his father's books. As Suleiman begins to wonder whether his father has disappeared for good, it feels as if the wall of his home will break with the secrets that are being held within.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385340435, Paperback)

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. But above all, it is a debut of rare insight and literary grace.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:03 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

In 1979 Libya, nine-year-old Suleiman endures his mother's increasingly disturbing bedside stories full of old family bitterness. His father is away on business (again), and Suleiman is soon caught up in a world he cannot hope to understand in this novel that offers a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the private fallout of a public nightmare.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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