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In the Country of Men
Cover of In the Country of Men
In the Country of Men
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Hisham Matar's Anatomy of a Disappearance.
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.
BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Hisham Matar's Anatomy of a Disappearance.
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.
Available formats-
  • OverDrive Read
  • EPUB eBook
Languages:-
Copies-
  • Available:
    1
  • Library copies:
    1
Levels-
  • ATOS:
    5.8
  • Lexile:
  • Interest Level:
    UG
  • Text Difficulty:
    4


 
Awards-
Excerpts-
  • Chapter One Chapter One


    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 continue begging me, as she had been doing only minutes before, not to tell, not to tell.

    Baba never found out about Mama's illness; she only fell ill when he was away on business. It was as if, when the world was empty of him, she and I remained as stupid reminders, empty pages that had to be filled with the memory of how they had come to be married.

    I sat watching her beautiful face, her chest rise and fall with breath, unable to leave her side, hearing the things she had just told me swim and repeat in my head.

    Eventually I left her and went to bed.

    When she woke up she came to me. I felt her weight sink beside me, then her fingers in my hair. The sound of her fingernails on my scalp reminded me of once when I was unlucky. I had thrown a date in my mouth before splitting it open, only discovering it was infested with ants when their small shell bodies crackled beneath my teeth. I lay there silent, pretending to be asleep, listening to her breath disturbed by tears.

    During breakfast I tried to say as little as possible. My silence made her nervous. She talked about what we might have for lunch. She asked if I would like some jam or honey. I said no, but she went to the fridge and got some anyway. Then, as was usual on the mornings after she had been ill, she took me on a drive to pull me out of my silence, to return me to myself again.

    Waiting for the car to warm up, she turned on the radio, skipped through the dial and didn't stop until she heard the beautiful voice of Abd al-Basit Abd al-Sammad. I was glad because, as everyone knows, one must refrain from speaking and listen humbly to the Koran when it is read.

    Just before we turned into Gergarish Street, the street that follows the sea, Bahloul the beggar appeared out of nowhere. Mama hit the brakes and said ya satir. He wandered over to her side, walking slowly, clasping his dirty hands tightly to his stomach, his lips quivering. "Hello, Bahloul," Mama said, rummaging in her purse. "I see you, I see you," he said, and although these were the words Bahloul most often uttered, this time I thought what an idiot Bahloul is and wished he would just vanish. I watched him in the side mirror standing in the middle of the street, clutching the money Mama had given him to his chest like a man who has just caught a butterfly.

    She took me downtown to the sesame man in the market by Martyrs' Square, the square that looked on to the sea, the square where a sculpture of Septimius Severus, the Roman emperor born all those years ago in Lepcis, proudly stood. She bought me as many sesame sticks as I wanted, each wrapped in white wax paper...

About the Author-
  • Hisham Matar was born in 1970 in New York City to Libyan parents and spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo. He lives in London and is currently at work on his second novel.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 30, 2006
    Shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, Matar's debut novel tracks the effects of Libyan strongman Khadafy's 1969 September revolution on the el-Dawani family, as seen by nine-year-old Suleiman, who narrates as an adult. Living in Tripoli 10 years after the revolution with his parents and spending lazy summer days with his best friend, Kareem, Suleiman has his world turned upside down when the secret police–like Revolutionary Committee puts the family in its sights—though Suleiman does not know it, his father has spoken against the regime and is a clandestine agitator—along with families in the neighborhood. When Kareem's father is arrested as a traitor, Suleiman's own father appears to be next. The ensuing brutality resonates beyond the bloody events themselves to a brutalizing of heart and mind for all concerned. Matar renders it brilliantly, as well as zeroing in on the regime's reign of terror itself: mock trials, televised executions, neighbors informing on friends, persecution mania in those remaining. By the end, Suleiman's father must either renounce the cause or die for it, and Suleiman faces the aftermath of conflicts (including one with Kareem) that have left no one untouched. Suleiman's bewilderment speaks volumes. Matar wrests beauty from searing dread and loss.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from November 15, 2006
    Set in 1979, this affecting first novel tells the story of Suleiman, a Libyan boy whose family and friends are targeted as antirevolutionaries by the repressive government of Muammar Qaddafi, known to his people as the Guardian. In this waking nightmare of how the government sows fear, turning its subjects against one another, men are arrested or disappear; one is eliminated in a horrifying public execution before a gleeful stadium crowdan event broadcast live on television. Only nine years old, Suleiman grapples with understanding who the real traitors are, and he finds himself guilty of betraying his friends in an environment of suspicion in which the government monitors every movement and conversation. Most memorable in this beautifully written book is the relationship between Suleiman and his young mother. Suleiman wants to save her from the depressions that plague her in a country hostile not only to her husband's political beliefs but also to her gender: she still suffers the loss of her dreams after entering an arranged marriage at 15. Matar portrays their relationship in intimate, realistic, and heartbreaking scenes. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, "LJ" 10/1/06; this book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.Ed.]Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC

    Copyright 2006 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • School Library Journal

    June 1, 2007
    Adult/High School -This is the story of the impact of small revolutions, not on the men and women who participate in the upheavals, but on the children who barely understand the world in which they find themselves. Suleiman is a nine-year-old in Qaddafi's Libya, proud of his country and his father, and worried about his mother's "illness." He is unprepared to understand the danger his father, a believer in democracy, is in, or the role that he, just a child, must play to protect his family. What is most disturbing is that he must play the games of adults, but without knowing the rules. There is no heroism here, only fear, betrayal, and mistrust. This is a difficult book: the characters are fatally flawed, the plot revels in the gray area of a child's memories and immature perceptions, and in the end there is little redemption. The plot unfolds credibly through the boy's eyes, and it is readers who shed light on the secrets. There is no judgment, and yet there is a heavy patina of guilt in the narrative. Well written, with evocative descriptions of heat and landscape that intensify readers' experience, the story lingers long after the book is closed. Teens serious about understanding the complex nature of patriotism will find much to ponder here.Mary Ann Harlan, Arcata High School, CA

    Copyright 2007 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    December 1, 2006
    Matar sets his debut in the cities in which he grew up, Tripoli and Cairo, and focuses on the memories of his narrator, Suleiman, as he relives the summer of 1979, when he was nine. Matar perceptively portrays Suleiman as he gradually gains awareness of the political unrest in which the life of his family is mired. His father, he discovers, is repeatedly absent not on "business trips" but because he's hiding his antigovernment activities. After Suleiman's friend Kareem's father is taken away, his interrogation is shown on television, followed by his public hanging. Suleiman helps his mother burn all his father's books after he, too, is taken away, though the boy doesn't connect this act with the fact that his "Baba" is savagely beaten. After being sent to Egypt with a family friend, Suleiman is labeled a "stray dog" by Qaddafi's government. This means he can never go home again, and his parents can never leave. Matar tells a gripping and shocking tale that illuminates the personal facet of a national nightmare.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2006, American Library Association.)

  • Wall Street Journal

    "A poetic and powerful account ... resonant with the details of a Libyan childhood."

  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution "Graceful.... Quietly, but with the insistence of a tolling bell, Matar lays bare for Suleiman both public and private worlds of overlapping male power, role models, standards and styles. At its intimate center, the novel calibrates the boy's shifting, decreasingly innocent perspective as he himself becomes implicated by cruelty and betrayal."
  • Los Angeles Times "Matar is a careful, controlled writer. His restraint--the spaces and the light between his words --make reading his work a physical as well as an emotional experience."
  • Seattle Times "Moving ... complex .... [Readers will] be haunted by Suleiman, his fate and his eventual awakening to the complexities of adult relationships."
  • Washington Post Book World "Matar writes in a voice that shifts gracefully between the adult exile looking back and the young boy experiencing these events through his limited, confused point of view.... This sad, beautiful novel captures the universal tragedy of children caught in their parents' terrors."
  • Miami Herald "A remarkably perceptive and affecting portrait of a young boy's premature political awakening.... [Matar] expertly builds an atmosphere of palpable tension, and though this novel never delves directly into politics, the menacing pall cast by political tyranny looms over the proceedings."
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