In the Country of Men

by Matar, Hisham | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0670916439 Global Overview for this book
Registered by frangipani08 of Brisbane, Queensland Australia on 10/9/2006
Buy from one of these Booksellers: | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT |
13 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by frangipani08 from Brisbane, Queensland Australia on Monday, October 09, 2006
On a white-hot day in Tripoli 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. Why doesn't he come over when he knows Suleiman's mother is falling apart?

Whispers intensify around Suleiman as his friend's father disappears and his mother frantically burns his father's books. As Suleiman begins to wonder whether his father has gone for good, it feels as if the walls of his home will break with the secrets held within. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, 2006.

29/10 An interesting read about the terrible events of Qaddafi's dictatorship in Libya through a child's eyes.

Bookring started Oct 06 in Brisbane

-livrecache - AUST
-Bellamack - AUST
-Gabbysmum - AUST
- cats-eye - UK
- tagesmann - UK
-geishabird, Canada
-indygo88, US
-Bug2004, US
-morsecode - US
- zzz - Serbia Montenegro
- okyrhoe, Greece ##BOOK IS HERE##
- iggi1812 - UK - asked to be skipped
-Home to Frangipani08 unless there are additions!

Mailed to livrecache Nov 06

Journal Entry 2 by livrecache from Hobart, Tasmania Australia on Monday, November 13, 2006
Thanks, frangipani08: I've caught the book, and I'm looking forward to reading it, in that sort of fascinated way one can have about others' horrible lives. It gives us an insight into different worlds -- at least, that's what I'm expecting. Thank you for sharing this book.

Journal Entry 3 by livrecache from Hobart, Tasmania Australia on Monday, December 04, 2006
I've sent the book to BellaMack, as I wasn't having a chance to read it. I am hoping that when it comes around to my turn again, I will have a little more time for reading!

Journal Entry 4 by BellaMack from St Helens, Tasmania Australia on Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Thanks for the opportunity to read the book frangipani08 and to you livrecache for posting it on to me. I have four books in front of it but I will try to finish it within the next four weeks.

Journal Entry 5 by BellaMack from St Helens, Tasmania Australia on Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wonderful book! This is definitely a book to be read by a book club and discussed. An easy read; the author has skilfully allowed the reader to travel smoothly through the story ... a story which addresses many complex themes and issues. I really don't want to spoil the story for other readers so I don't want to write too much. I definitely will be adding this book to my permanent collection. Thank you so much livrecache for slotting me in before you, I do appreciate it. Posted off to livrecache today , enjoy :)

Journal Entry 6 by livrecache from Hobart, Tasmania Australia on Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Safely back with me today, thanks BellaMack. I seem to appear on the list twice: I wasn't expecting it again for quite some time. However, I'll put it on the top of my TBR pile. I just started reading it, and I'm in the mood for it.

Thanks for sharing, Frangipani08. Is there any chance of finding another Australian to read it before it goes overseas? I've really exceeded my current budget on overseas posting for the time being. If not, no matter, I'll manage.

Journal Entry 7 by livrecache from Hobart, Tasmania Australia on Saturday, January 06, 2007
Like BellaMack I really enjoyed this book, and the way it addressed complex issues. It was easy to read, and the point of view was interesting -- the narrator remembering himself and his reactions as a nine year old boy: somewhat disturbing reactions at times.

Sending on to Gabbysmun.

Journal Entry 8 by livrecache from Hobart, Tasmania Australia on Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Sent to gabbysmum 9 January 2007. Thanks again Fragianpani08.

Journal Entry 9 by gabbysmum from Brisbane, Queensland Australia on Friday, January 12, 2007
Arrived safe and sound today,jus tone in front of it which i have almost finished.

Journal Entry 10 by gabbysmum from Brisbane, Queensland Australia on Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Enjoyed this book so much.This book makes you feel so lucky and appreciate what you have.

On its way to cats-eye,so sorry for the delay kept forgetting to take the book to the post office,then when I did I forgot to take the address ack Iam hopeless!

Journal Entry 11 by cats-eye from Bishop Auckland, County Durham United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Arrived safely today, wrapped in a cute bandanna from down under :) Thank you v. much Gabbysmum, and also to frangipani for organising this ring. I'll get to this as soon as I can...uni breaks up at the end of next week for the Easter hols, so hopefully I'll have some quality reading time in the near future!! I'll return shortly with my thoughts....

Journal Entry 12 by cats-eye from Bishop Auckland, County Durham United Kingdom on Monday, March 19, 2007
I really enjoyed reading this fictional account of Qaddafi's Libya in the late 1970's. The story has many different layers, and reminded me of "The Kite Runner" in it's pacing and style.
Thank you, frangipani, for organizing this ring - this is certainly a book worth sharing and recommending!

I have posted it to tagesmann today Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Journal Entry 13 by tagesmann on Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Received today. Looking forward to reading it.

Journal Entry 14 by tagesmann on Friday, April 13, 2007
While book is well written and has an easy style, I found it difficult to engage with the narrator, perhaps because of his age and perhaps because he wasn't written as a likeable boy. However, the description of what a family goes through when one of its members has perhaps been arrested by the authorities is brilliantly realised.

16/04/07. Posted to geishabird...

Journal Entry 15 by geishabird from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Friday, April 20, 2007
Received today; thank you! I do have a couple of books ahead of this one in the queue but I'm a pretty fast reader; I shouldn't be too long.

Journal Entry 16 by geishabird from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Monday, May 07, 2007
I found this a very good read. Those of us who have never grown up under the shadow of an oppression like the one Suleiman describes for us can never really appreciate the terror one lives in day by day, but this book gives us a very good sense, in a small way, of what it must be like. There's a terrible sense of anxiety, of waiting for something to happen, that permeates the story, and whenever something does happen, it's almost inevitably terrible. Suleiman and his parents are interesting and complicated people - they have deep flaws and weaknesses that eat away at them and it's fascinating to watch the way their lives unfold as a result. A deeply sorrowful and moving tale. Thanks very much for sharing.

I've PM'd indygo88 and will send the book on its way as soon as possible.

Journal Entry 17 by geishabird from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Saturday, May 12, 2007
Mailed out today; enjoy!

Journal Entry 18 by indygo88 from Lafayette, Indiana USA on Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Received today. Like everyone else, I'm backed up with some others at the moment, but I'll try not to take too long. It looks like it's gotten pretty good reviews so far! :')

7/6/07 -- Finally starting book today. Hoping to read fast & get it moving again!

Journal Entry 19 by indygo88 from Lafayette, Indiana USA on Thursday, July 12, 2007
This was a fairly quick read & while I wouldn't say it was quite a gripping story, it is indeed one of those reads where you easily become thankful for the freedoms you do have & the luxuries you're lucky enough to be born into. Suleiman is basically a character who is forced to grow up ahead of his time, often not fully understanding what's happening around him, yet knowing something isn't quite right. I think geishabird has summarized this story beautifully & very accurately -- I definitely couldn't say it any better.

I have Bug2004's address & will be posting this in tomorrow's mail.

Journal Entry 20 by Bug2004 from Omaha, Nebraska USA on Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Rec'vd today. I have a few in front of this one, but will get to it as quick as I can.

Journal Entry 21 by Bug2004 from Omaha, Nebraska USA on Wednesday, September 26, 2007
This was an interesting book! It was easy to read and yet, such a complex subject. What a gift this author has. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

Mailed off to morsecode today.

Journal Entry 22 by morsecode from Woonsocket, Rhode Island USA on Monday, October 01, 2007
This book arrived today. I'll try not to keep it too long (especially since I have another book I need to mail to zzz as well).

Journal Entry 23 by morsecode from Woonsocket, Rhode Island USA on Monday, October 15, 2007
I mailed this book off to zzz on Saturday.

I think this is one of those books that I just wasn't in the correct mindset for when it came into my life. I read it, but I wasn't terribly impressed. The book isn't long, but it took me a while to read it because I didn't find it particularly compelling. I mean, the book is depressing and that's exactly not what I needed to be reading at the moment.

Journal Entry 24 by zzz from Rakovica, City of Belgrade Serbia on Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Book has arrived. I'm little stuck so book might stay with me little longer.
However I'll do my best to not keep it too long.

Journal Entry 25 by zzz from Rakovica, City of Belgrade Serbia on Monday, December 10, 2007
In the Country of Men is basically story about life in Libya after the Muammar El Qaddafi’s revolution. The year is 1979 and the narrator is nine years old Suleiman so we see revolution and its consequences through the eyes of nine years old boy. Boy who was much protected from the truth by his parents. It was interesting how some obvious facts (obvious for us, adults) are presented in some naïve language of a kid. We have impression that we are sailing through the sea surrounded with peaks of icebergs. The difference is that we (adults) are aware what’s beneath the surface unlike the child who is telling us the story.

Then there is one nice picture about customs in the Muslim country and again position of woman in it. Suleiman’s mother has been forced into the marriage when her brother saw her in the café with mixed company. Immediately “husband hunt” begins and the Scheherazade-like story. Therefore she was very unhappy with her marriage but in the same time in the husband’s absence she’s even more miserable and becomes “ill”. Her “illness” is another peak of an iceberg and I must say I liked how Matar has described bond between mother and son making her “illness” something sacredly secret.

Suleiman’s family is relatively rich. His father is businessman often on the trip abroad but also man who is part of democratic wing in new Libya. Wing you don’t want to be part in post Revolutionary, Qaddafi’s Libya; full of secret police, man in dark suits and sunglasses, land where national TV is broadcasting public execution of “traitors of the revolution”; where phone lines are tapped, etc. And inevitably consequence for being wrong winged came. But even then it’s a peak of an iceberg.

Matar has done great job in conveying kid’s confusion toward all the events around him. Politics is absolutely incomprehensible to him; he doesn’t have a clue what his father supports or what he actually is doing in spite the fact that some glimpses have been presented accidentally to him. He is confronted with the mechanism of the regime when secret service is following their car or watching his house or taking away his friend’s father but somehow he manages to not recognize that as something bad. He’s explaining that in the most impossible ways. On the other hand his parents aren’t teaching their son anything, they are worsening situation even more and make him confused ‘till the breaking point when he start to scream (finally!):” You always lie. I am not a child and you always lie.” In the meanwhile I was so irritated with the kid and had to (too) often remind myself that he’s only a child.

[Possibly SPOILER]

But what disappointed me the most are last few chapters when we are actually see that the story tells 24 Suleiman and not nine years old boy. I’ve found myself confused why on earth he made this unnecessary contrast with the rest of the novel who has convinced us that the narrator is a boy? The whole novel was through the eyes of a kid, who is not kid anymore and therefore it completely spoils the earlier approach. Now when I know Suleiman is an adult I’d expect story from a point of view of an adult person.

The story itself is nothing new. It’s more/less the same story from a country under oppressive regime. There are only few specifically Libyan spices in this dish.
Indeed this is sad and sometimes poignant story but is that should be enough?

I have okyrhoe’s address and I’ll ship book in next few days.

Journal Entry 26 by okyrhoe from Athens - Αθήνα, Attica Greece on Thursday, January 03, 2008
Arrived in my last Friday. Thanks frangipani08 for including me in the ring, and also thanks to zzz for posting it to me. I really liked the postcard of old Beograd!

Journal Entry 27 by okyrhoe from Athens - Αθήνα, Attica Greece on Tuesday, February 19, 2008
I like the analogy zzz uses to describe the book --> The child narrator’s point of view being the tip of the iceberg. It’s as if the boy’s view of the world is warped by the surface of the water. Actually, Suleiman isn’t a particularly likeable character. On the contrary, the reader is discouraged from identifying with the first person narrator, for he recounts episodes of his boyhood in which he indulges in inexplicable cruel behavior which contrasts sharply with the boy's childish innocence in the face of evil and deceit.

While the book’s language is pretty much straightforward and uncomplicated, to the point that at first I thought this wasn’t going to be worth my while, as I read on, became engrossed by the subversive elements of the plot, and the constant interplay of the two temporal pasts of the narrative (Najwa-the mother’s past vs. Suleiman-the boy’s past).


In the Country of Men has been criticized by Arab commentators for being politically vague, for depicting the opposition to the Libyan regime as a slipshod endeavor, in effect caricaturing the resistance movement. IMO this is what gives the book its humanity and poignancy.
The primary critique of contemporary Arab society is that this country of ‘men’ no longer operates according to ‘manly’ codes of conduct. All sense of justice, faith, honor, respect seems to have decayed.
This can be seen in the juxtaposition between the strict moral codes women must still adhere to, a seemingly anachronistic tradition that persists in a society whose ruling regime loudly proclaims a total break with the past, the ushering in of the ‘modern’, the ‘revolutionary’, etc.
We observe the most devout adherents of The Guide are men who unashamedly forego ideological principles when it is convenient for themselves or for their superiors: Um Masood can be bribed by a cake topped with strawberries; the secret police try to score with Suleiman’s mother in exchange for overlooking the ‘shame’ of her drinking binges. And despite all the macho talk of capturing the ‘traitors’, the pistol-toting Sharief promptly abandons his idealistic mission when the ‘mighty hand’ decides to spare Suleiman’s father.
However, the opposition isn't any better. Najwa’s brother, despite an American wife and a comfortable life abroad, reverts to the old ways when it comes to dealing with the matter of the family’s honour being compromised by the young girl. Faraj (Suleiman’s father), who is apparently one of the main financial benefactors of the opposition, has married an underage girl he has never seen before and even went so far as to deflower her as she lay unconscious with fear on her wedding night in accordance with tradition.
Who better, then, to understand the futility of the 'resistance' than Najwa, (Suleiman’s mother). As a woman, as a victim of patriarchal status quo, she is aware that her husband’s struggle with the totalitarian regime is a futile battle. The system cannot be overcome when the men fighting it are themselves oppressors. And this is what In the Country of Men illustrates, by intertwining the two narratives: the subjugation of Najwa to the rule of men, and the subjugation of Faraj to the rule of the regime.
Najwa’s adolescent ‘crime’ is that she was found talking to a boy in a public café. The ‘High Council’ of male family elders acted with the ‘efficiency rivaling that of a German factory’ in meting out the punishment after a closed ‘trial’ in which she is not allowed to come to her own defense. Her sentence begins with incarceration, beatings, a forced marriage, denial of access to books, and concludes with the rape on her wedding night. She remembers: “When I got home every light in my life was put out.”
Years later, her husband’s fate echoes her own oppression. At the moment of Faraj’s arrest she immediately understands the enormity of his predicament: the possibility of being placed ‘behind the sun for ever’.
His capture by the Revolutionary Committee men is followed by events paralleling her own submission: a mock trial, incarceration, beatings, forced confession, forced pledge of loyalty, deprived of his books, release.
The ironic twist in this role reversal is that it is the woman who now holds the trump card --> She makes the morally superior choice to save him at all costs whereas no man or woman (not even her own mother) was willing to rescue/protect her. In the country of men, it is the woman who saves the day, overcoming the ‘cowardly’ stance of the Scheherazades past and present - idealists/fantasists who choose slavery over risking all for freedom.
Najwa negotiates with her neighbor Ustath Jafer the until then much feared highranking Mokhabarat official and pledges obedience to the regime on behalf of her husband, as she had once given her own wedding pledge to him in order to ‘save’ her family’s honor: ‘A word had been given and word had been received, men’s words that could never be taken back or exchanged.’
Finally, I want to point out the crowning ironic symbol: The white handkerchief, a testament of Najwa's virgin ‘honor’ upon her bridal bed, becomes the white sheet on the mirror protecting the ‘violated’ husband from his own reflected image upon his return home a badly bruised and broken man.

Matar’s real story

Matar’s Top 10

Listen to Hisham Matar
NPR Fresh Air 22/02/2007 ~~ NPR All Things Considered 11/-2/2007

First Chapter

On its way home to frangipani08.

Journal Entry 28 by frangipani08 from Brisbane, Queensland Australia on Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Safely home, thanks okyrhoe! I think I will keepthis book local for a while and then release it for the Australian Bookcrossing Convention in Brisbane.

Journal Entry 29 by frangipani08 at BC Brisbane Convention in Brisbane, Queensland Australia on Saturday, March 29, 2008

Released 11 yrs ago (7/4/2008 UTC) at BC Brisbane Convention in Brisbane, Queensland Australia



To be released at the 2008 convention

Journal Entry 30 by Mistlerose from Frankston, Victoria Australia on Friday, July 04, 2008
picked up at the BC con in my goodie bag. Thank you.

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