Book Review – In the country of men by Hisham Matar


There is a oft-used but true cliche about books-that reading them is like a journey. And as many of us often feel, the journey is more beautiful than the destination.
In the country of Men is one such journey.
When I first picked up the book, I had a bias for it- for some reason, I have always enjoyed reading books about Islamic countries. I count The Kite Runner, The Reluctant Fundamentalist among my favorite books. Maybe the primary reason is I enjoy the way communial violence and conflict is portrayed in these books. There is a raw, violating feeling to them. I knew I was expecting the same from this book.
But the book was a surprise. The author does a wonderful job of telling the story – a story that has the revolution in Libya as the backdrop- through the eyes of the kid protagonist Suleiman. And nowhere does that feeling go.away. There are times when you will feel anger or indignation rising inside you when you know whatever Suleiman is about to do will lead to trouble. Or shock when Suleiman hurls rocks at a beggar or kicks him trying to prevent him from clambering out of the sea the beggar has fallen into.
The sense of a boy having a troubled childhood is in your face more than once, and you can’t help feeling sorry for him.
The book follows the life of Suleiman at a good pace for majority of the time. The revolution has been a disaster for Suleiman’s family’s, but this fact is conveyed to us through the problem Suleiman faces- like wetting his pants when men come to his home looking for his father, or witnessing the execution of his friend’s father on tv, to his unwillingness to bid farewell to the same friend out of guilt. The Suleiman the author has created is a very convincing portrait of a child confused and getting no support from his drinking mother and a father away in hiding.
It’ was only towards the end that I started to feel the author wanted to end the story, and he knew there wasnt going to be a proper closure. I felt the end wasn’t satisfactory. But that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing this sometimes disturbing yet beautiful journey.
Overall, a good read.