Bookguide's Reviews > In the Country of Men

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
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's review
Jan 26, 2011

really liked it
Recommended to Bookguide by: LenaLena

In Dutch, 'Niemandsland' with a different cover, Won as 2nd prize in a BC lottery.

Interesting story of how the choices made by his parents affect a nine-year-old boy in Gaddafi's Libya. Although it is set in Libya, there is not much local colour; it is more about the relationships within the family. Without explaining to his son, Suleiman's father is involved in subversive activities against the regime. Meanwhile Suleiman is left to his own devices as his unhappy mother's "illness" frequently leaves her unable to care for him. Paradoxically, while the parents both keep secrets from the boy, to shelter him from the hard reality, his mother confides personal secrets which are unsuitable for such a young child, and make him feel responsible for her welfare. The lack of communication between the boy and his parents leads to a dangerous isolation, leaving him open to a dangerous "friendship" with the government minder posted outside their house, which may lead to the betrayal of his father and his collaborators.

I thouroughly enjoyed this book, which I read in about two days. Towards the end, I felt that there were a few loose ends, though, such as the fate of the tramp, and the last section was rather unsatisfactory. There were some interesting passages about the nature of exile, and the author described the feeling of the boy well. I shall look forward to reading other books by Hisham Matar.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Colleen Clark I often wonder why translators change the title of books. Is Niemansland (no man's land) more intelligible in Dutch that a straightforward translation would be? As an English and German speaker "no man's land" means something different to me than "In the Country of Men."

Bookguide Sometimes publishers have to change the title because there's already a book with the same title. Sometimes it hinges on a key sentence in the book, and a whole passage may have been reworked so that it makes more sense to use something different for the title. I don't know what the rationale was with this book, but "niemandsland" does mean the same as "no man's land", and fits pretty well with the boy left in limbo between his parents, in his own little world.

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