In the Country of Men

by Hisham Matar

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List of Characters

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Ustath Rashid—neighbor, father of Kareem, assassinated as a rebel.

Kareem—neighbor and friend of Suleiman.

Auntie Salma—Rashid’s wife and mother of Kareem.

Bu Nasser—Nasser’s father.

Nasser—young rebel and friend of Suleiman’s father.

Siham—younger sister of Nasser, who flirts with Suleiman and later marries Kareem.

Auntie Nora—Suleiman’s mother’s sister.

Khaled—Suleiman’s mother’s brother, poet who marries Cathy, a white woman from the United States; he also betrays Suleiman’s mother and tells her parents she is flirting.

Cathy—American woman who marries Khaled.

Jihan—fourteen-year-old boy whose hand Suleiman’s mother holds in public.

Moosa—Egyptian friend of family and rebel.

Judge Yaseen—Mossa’s father, who raises Suleiman in Egypt.

Faraj Bu Suleiman el-Dewani—Suleiman’s father.

Najwa—Suleiman’s mother’s personal name.

Um Suleiman—Suleiman’s mother’s public name.

El-haj Muftah—Suleiman’s maternal grandfather.

Suleiman—nine-year-old boy who is the novel’s main character and narrator.

Habibi—Suleiman’s family nicknames.

Slooma—Majdi baker who sells illegal alcohol.

Adnan—neighborhood friend of Suleiman, young boy who suffers from uncontrollable bleeding.

Masoud—a neighborhood boy.

Ali—a neighborhood boy.

Character Analysis

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Suleiman, also lovingly referred to by family members as “Habibi” and “Slooma,” is a nine-year-old boy who is trying to make sense of his world. His father is loving and supportive but secretive about his life and seldom at home. His mother, who drinks excessively whenever his father is gone, does not tell Suleiman the truth of what is going on in the family. When she drinks, however, she does tell him stories about her childhood, sad stories about her family’s betrayal. Although the stories are filled with sadness, Suleiman is soothed by them, because he loves the close presence of his mother as she whispers the stories in his ear.

Suleiman is an introspective child but he has no one to turn to for help in interpreting what is are happening around him. He thinks his mother is ill, for instance, and that the bottles of alcohol are her medicine. He does not understand why she is ill only when his father is away. He also does not fully understand what is going on in the political world around him.

Suleiman’s mother is not very self-confident. She was married too young, had a child shortly afterward, and is forced to obey the rule of the men in her family. She does not have much of a voice. Although she pleads with her husband to give up his political activity, he does not listen to her.

Suleiman’s father is absent throughout much of the novel. It is difficult to fully appreciate or understand his personality. He seems distant from his family, even when he is home. He is more involved with Moosa, his friend and co-conspirator. His obsession in life is to make money and to defy the Qaddafi regime. He leads younger people in working in an underground movement to topple the Libyan government. Only when he is returned from prison and badly beaten does he show any affection for his wife. Only as he is healing does Suleiman notice how his mother and father have moments of laughter.

Moosa is a friend of the family. He not only adores and honors Suleiman’s father, he also looks out for Suleiman and Suleiman’s mother. Moosa, however, does not seem to be as intelligent and as practical as Suleiman’s mother. She has to warn Moosa several times when he calls on the telephone and says things he should not be saying because the telephone line is tapped. However, Moosa is there when Suleiman’s house is searched and he has the good sense to burn Suleiman’s father's papers and books. It is to Moosa’s father’s home in Egypt that Suleiman is sent to live and be raised, despite the fact that Moosa’s father blames Suleiman’s father for getting Moosa involved in dangerous political activities.

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