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In the Country of Men
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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

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 Reed Business Information.

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 2006 Reed Business Information.

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 crowd-an 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 Reed Business Information.

"A poetic and powerful account ... resonant with the details of a Libyan childhood."--Wall Street Journal

"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."--Atlanta Journal-Constitution "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."--Los Angeles Times "Moving ... complex .... [Readers will] be haunted by Suleiman, his fate and his eventual awakening to the complexities of adult relationships."--Seattle Times "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."--Washington Post Book World

"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."--Miami Herald

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