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"In the Country of Men" by Hisham Matar

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In "In the Country of Men" Hisham Matar gives us an apparently autobiographical account of a boy's experiences after the coup which put Qadhafi in power in Libya. We see the world through the eyes and heart of a nine-year-old boy, who watches his parents' involvement, along with that of his friends and acquaintances, and this is very effectively done. We believe his impulses, his anger, his hopes, and his insecurities. We also believe a young boy would have the perverse and misguided impulses this one has.

Young Soulieman watches his pretty mother like a hawk. He takes his cues from her, and would like nothing more than to wish her angst away. He hates it when she's "sick" (drinking), because it messes with his secure childhood. Like most boys his age, he idolizes his father, who, apart from a few gratifying episodes, remains fairly aloof from his son. Qadhafi's early regime is literally brought home in all its horrific detail. Soulieman witnesses far too much ghastly reality, and this is another strength of this book. There is a hint of hopefulness at the book's conclusion, after the narrator has lived in Cairo for some years.

This is one of the political books which is well-received by the public, particularly the influential public. It was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Its portrayal of a young boys' life and times, and his reaction to them is real and moving. The plot moves along slowly, however, and follows the boy's perceptions a little too closely to get any perspective. Perhaps that is the main point. A good book, no doubt. I am, however, a little mystified at the Man Booker Prize consideration.
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Abdelghafour

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