Distractingly, I kept wondering whether this book was (semi)autobiographical. The author's father was "disappeared" in Cairo in the late 1970s and hasDistractingly, I kept wondering whether this book was (semi)autobiographical. The author's father was "disappeared" in Cairo in the late 1970s and hasn't been heard from since. He could be long-dead or he could still be alive in one of Gaddafi's far-flung jails. Matar's paternal uncle had been imprisoned by Gaddafi for nearly 2 decades, before he was released sometime in the 1990s. So the whole time I was reading this book, I wondered how much of Hisham Matar is in young Suleiman?
Other than that distraction, I really enjoyed this novel. The title says that we are in the country of men, but the novel's hero(ine) is Suleiman's (the 9 year old narrator) mother, whose oppression as a young teenager - after getting caught at a sodashop with a boy by her supposedly liberal poet brother, 14 year old Najwa is beaten, taken out of school and married off to a man 9 years her senior. After Suleiman's dad (a closet anti-Gaddafi revolutionary) gets caught by the regime, it is his wife, alchoholic, beautiful, still-young, Najwa, who knows how to navigate an oppressive system to save her family.
Suleiman is a thoroughly unpleasant and unlikeable boy & grows up to be a bland young man. But this story is painted so vividly (though in simple language), the tenderness is so beautiful and the brutality is so shocking, that it's worth the read. ...more
Sweet is in the title, and the book sure is sweet. The storyline is a little fantastical (seems like the author wanted to throw in every trope out theSweet is in the title, and the book sure is sweet. The storyline is a little fantastical (seems like the author wanted to throw in every trope out there about race, racism, immigration and the American south to make a point, rather than let her story organically emerge), but the characters are believable. The story revolves around the 1960s murder of a black father and daughter in Mississippi and the present-day inhabitants of the sleepy Mississippi town, including former Klansmen, new Mexican immigrants, and the family of the deceased father and daughter.
The who-dun-it part of this "mystery" is solvable almost immediately, but the characters save the book. The best storyline is the sweet & budding romance between the title character Jiminy, a white law school drop-out and Bo, a black pre-med student who's great-aunt is Jiminy's grandmother's long-time housekeeper. Kristin Gore's dialogue between these two is charming & believable and I'd recommend this book for light, summer reading. ...more
Word to the wise: don't read this book on a train or a plane,or anywhere public, really. I cried while reading this book, no doubt freaking out the goWord to the wise: don't read this book on a train or a plane,or anywhere public, really. I cried while reading this book, no doubt freaking out the good folks sitting to either side of me on my flight as I got caught up in the gutwrenching stories of parents losing their children, loved ones losing loved ones. It is that powerful. DC is an engrossing writer, he employs the technique of using the words and mannerisms of the witnesses/victims/survivors. It gives the book an eery feel, but is an interesting way to get a sense of the characteristics of the people involved.
Still not done with it, but it's a heavy one, so I'm reading lighter fare to balance it out....more