Ron's Reviews > In the Country of Men

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
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's review
Apr 23, 2012

really liked it

It is the summer of 1979 in Tripoli, Libya, and the narrator of this novel remembers a boyhood year in which his life is forever changed by the repressive regime of Col. Quaddafi's revolutionary government. Little aware of what is going on around him, the boy struggles to understand the strange behavior of his father, who as we learn is an educated businessman with democratic aspirations for his country. Left for long periods of time alone with his mother, the boy puzzles over signs of her growing anxiety during a government crackdown on dissidents. As she talks with him, we begin to understand her own story of being forcibly married against her will at the age of fourteen.

Swept up in heightening waves of dread, the reader is taken by the novel into a sunlit nightmare of surveillance, torture, and public executions. Given to casual acts of cruelty himself, the boy is portrayed unsentimentally, and it's possible to connect all the novel's acts of disregard for humanity along a single spectrum. At the end, fifteen years later, the narrator looks back with regret at a life interrupted by political forces that have left him distrustful and alienated. It is a story that could be told by many in a world where authoritarian governments hold power and people in the hundreds of thousands have been uprooted from their homelands.
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