In the Country of Men

by Hisham Matar

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How have the adults in Suleiman's life failed him in the book In the Country of Men

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In short, Suleiman's father fails him by being absent and Suleiman's mother fails him by being drunk.  Of course, there are legitimate reasons behind both actions; however, Suleiman (as a nine year old boy) does not understand them fully. Suleiman's father is most often not at home because not because he is the "successful businessman" that he has made himself out to be, but because he is involved in the underground movement of democracy in Libya.  Suleiman's father's absence creates a lot of tension in the story.  It especially creates tension for Suleiman's mother who responds to this absence by drinking too much alcohol.  This, of course, affects the way she cares for young Suleiman.  In his misunderstanding, Suleiman thinks that the bottles of alcohol are bottles of his mother's "medicine" and that her drunkenness is a sad side effect.

Adults also fail Suleiman through their betrayal of his family in In The Country of Men.  The most important example is the conflict with the neighbors who are members of the Mokhabarat (the secret police in Libya).  The scene is filled with tension because, even though it is only Suleiman and his mother requesting help, Suleiman's father is an expected enemy of the Libyan state and, therefore, the entire family is looked upon with suspicion.  Even worse, the neighbors hide their betrayal with an eerie mask of goodness.  In being "good" Muslims, they say that "the Prophet taught us to love our neighbors.”  This scene of tension and betrayal affects Suleiman for the rest of his life:

That visit has remained with me ever since.  Whenever I am faced with someone who holds the strings to my fate – an immigration officer, a professor – I can feel the distant reverberations from that day, my inauguration into the dark art of submission.

Finally, adults (and specifically members of the Mokhabarat seeking information over the phone) fail Suleiman by forcing him to betray his own father.  Poor Suleiman is manipulated into divulging the living quarters of both his father and of Nasser "in one of the buildings ... in Martyr's Square" even though he tries to retreat by saying he "is not sure."  This betrayal (which is yet another way adults fail Suleiman) scars Suleiman for good.

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