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In the Country of Men Hardcover – January 30, 2007

72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 246 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; First Edition edition (January 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385340427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385340427
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #907,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Andy Orrock VINE VOICE on February 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I learned about Hisham Matar's debut work "In the Country of Men" from an occasional piece that the Financial Times does called "Read Your Way Around the World." In the list the FT published in 2006, a one- to two-line description of Matar's book reeled me in. How often does one get to read a semi-autobiographical piece about growing up Libya? Since it wasn't available yet in the US, I ordered it straight away from Amazon UK.

It's not often I can say that I 'treasured' a reading experience. But that was the case with Matar's book. It was worth every penny of extra shipping to have the book in my hands right away.

I can't do the work justice here. Seen through a young child's eyes, it depicts life under the initial days of Muammar Gaddafi's 'Great Revolution.' Gaddafi himself is an off-stage presence in the book - never named, he is referred to others simply as 'The Guide' (he's known officially as 'Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution'). The majority of the action takes place in a single neighborhood. The reader sees how the revolution affects the fabric of Tripoli society. It's expertly and almost delicately told.

It's hard to believe Matar is a debut novelist. 'In the Country of Men' is a work to treasure.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Karielle @ Books à la Mode on May 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I'm normally not a fan of historical fiction, but as a world literature lover, I couldn't help but try this one. Even though it was a little difficult to get into, I am so, so glad I did.

In the Country of Men is a gripping account, from a small boy's perspective, of Gaddafi's infamous terror regime. It shimmers in the triumphs and fumes in the horrors of the the Libyan revolution of 1979, and expertly depicts Libyan culture and customs--the entire "world full of men and the greed of men"--as well. I found this a shocking, affecting read, and be forewarned: this book hits hard and will leave bruises.

There are a several difficult issues tackled in Suleiman's first-person narrative, each coated with a blasé haze of childish charm. The exterior ones among these, include gender inequality and societal persecution, but Hisham Matar dares to venture deeper as the story spins around the values of family, friendship, nationalism, and the definition of loyalty. He portrays in deliberate precision and indelicacy, the oppression of not only women, but also of humans and human rights; this is all poignant, truthful, and startlingly refreshing.

Facets of the narrator's childhood make him the most vulnerable, and yet most potent character. Most of the other characters are shallow or, as with the central themes, influenced by Suleiman's innocence and lack of awareness, but they are nevertheless lyrically and memorably described.

I'll admit this book was a bit slow for first half, but the second half blew me away. In the Country of Men is not the sort of book I'll soon forget.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By AA on July 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard about this book from an interview of Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air with the author Hisham Mater. In the interview Mater talked of his own life experience as a boy watching interrogations on Libyan TV and the eventual detention of his father and the exile of the family first to Egypt then England. The author came across as a very thoughtful and articulate, his description of his experience as a child coming so close to the horrors of torture clearly left its mark on him.

In the Country of Men, belongs to the semi fiction genre, it is based on real events witnessed first hand by the author but clearly the author let his very creative talents take over and weave a number of other interesting patterns on the same basic setting of Libyan social and political life in the Seventies.

Hot Mediterranean summer days, lots of white sand and the beautiful blue Mediterranean, a nine year only child living with a mother suffering from depression and alcoholism trying to make the most of a bad marriage. A father, who is somewhat remote and a bit caricature like is a businessman turned activist obsessed with making Libya a better place. Libya is very much right out of 1984 with much of the horrors, brain washing and denials and a great "Guide" too.

Mater's developed his own child character and that of his mother's superbly into complete multi dimensional human beings. The cruelty and contradictions in the child were masterfully portrayed. Also his sense of place and time is remarkable, Mater makes you virtually taste the beautiful delicious mulberries or sense the heat burning your feet from walking in the hot afternoons to the Tripoli beach.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Evans on January 25, 2008
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
THE AUDIO BOOK (Unabridged)
Though I first read the print copy of the book, after listening to the unabridged CD version of it, I'd highly recommend it as the reader is terrific--i.e, reads slowly enough for one to digest the material and savor the language and 2) does not overly dramatize it.

By the time I was ready to write a review of the book, too many had already been written. However, because my book group thought that the information I'd gleaned from others' interviews with the author added depth to their appreciation of his novel, I decided to post some of it here. And where relevant, I also added further background information via comments on others' reviews.

In interview after interview, Matar insists that Suleiman's story is not his story. "Suleiman's emotionally volatile and unpredictable mother plays a big role in his life whereas my mother and father were both very stable and reliable," Matar explains, adding that he had to research "how children of parents with drinking problems are affected."

However, says Matar, "I deliberately placed the action in the landscape I remember. The house is very much our house, the sea very much the sea I remember....The book was in a way an attempt to revisit the haunts of my youth and thus to try to wean myself of the country I had left and haven't been able to return to for over 28 years now....I failed, of course."

And, according to Matar, "the backdrop of Suleiman's story--the political unrest that was taking place--is based on things that did happen....But when I was Suleiman's age, it was very subtle. I sensed there were some things you could not say.
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