In the Country of Men

by Hisham Matar

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Is In The Country of Men a domestic or political story?

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The thing that makes this book so important is that it is both a domestic and a political story. All great novels are this way; they tell both small stories and large stories. By way of a short example, Steinbeck's famous The Grapes of Wrath tells a domestic story (a family traveling west together) and a political story (the huge migration west in the wake of the Dust Bowl).

This particular novel tells the story of nine-year-old Suleiman who lives in Libya. But it also tells the story of Libya's internal tensions during Moammar Qaddafi's reign. 

Suleiman's story is mostly a domestic one. His family is well-off, and his society (which gives many advantages to men) has set him up to be very successful. But this domestic story is interrupted and changed by the intrusion of the political. Suleiman's father is an underground rebel who believes in democracy. People like him are exterminated under Qaddafi's rule.

Eventually, Suleiman's father disappears. This, too, has both domestic and political implications. Suleiman and his family must fight with their grief, worry, and the everyday struggles of life in Libya. Suleiman's mother becomes an alcoholic to deal with her pain. These are domestic concerns. But Suleiman also asks big, political questions about the role of government, his father's rebellion, and the cost of tyranny.

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