In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

1. First lines. 2. Published 2006 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin 3. Arabic book [Public Domain] via Pikrepo 4. Muslim woman [Public Domain] via Pxfuel

Suleiman is a 9-year-old boy living with his mother and father in Tripoli, Libya in 1979. His best friend’s father disappears, and later is seen being executed on public television. Suleiman becomes worried about his own father, whose absences are explained as business trips. His mother is constantly anxious, and Suleiman also worries, but doesn’t understand what is happening.


“… I must be a good wife, loyal and unquestioning, support my man regardless. I’ll support nothing that puts my son in danger. Faraj can fly after his dreams all he wants, but not me, I won’t follow. I will get my son out of this place if it takes the last of me.”

“We stepped back and watched the Colonel stare up and into the distance. His cap down to his eyes, as if something in the sky bothered him, black tufts of hair gathered around his temples and ears and the sides of his neck, two mysterious lines carved into his cheeks like brackets on either side of his mouth. The brass plaque on the frame read: Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Guide of the Libyan Popular Revolution.’

My opinion:

Even though this story is simply told, (being the voice of a 9-year-old), it paints a picture of the terrible circumstances in Libya at the time. The 9-year-old perspective makes it even more sad.

The opinion of others:
  • Kirkus: “A tender-hearted account, winning in its simplicity, of a childhood infected too soon by the darkness of adults.”
  • Independent: “Matar has written not just a story about a troubled country, but also a beautifully nuanced tale of the complexity of family relationships and the painful vulnerabilities of childhood.”

Hisham Matar

Other editions:
Historical note:

The story takes place ten years after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s coup d’etat on 1st September 1969. As leader of the country, he abolished the monarchy, and reinstated traditional Islamic laws. He ruled until 2011 when rebel forces, backed by NATO, took control of much of Libya, and Gaddafi was killed. “In the Country of Men” has a biographical aspect. The author grew up in Tripoli, and his father was the Libyan activist Jaballa Matar who disappeared in 1990 and was never seen again.

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