In the Country of Men

by Hisham Matar

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Critical Overview

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Hisham Matar's first novel, In the Country of Men, was nominated for the coveted Booker Prize in 2006. Most reviewers have much praise for Matar’s work.

“Simple but poetic,” writes Michele Levy for World Literature Today. Levy finds that although the novel “depicts recent Libyan history, its core examines the complex emotions that bind us together, of which the most potent is love.” Meanwhile, typical of many other reviewers’ comments, Lorraine Adams, writing for the New York Times Book Review, calls Matar’s In the Country of Men “an exceptional first novel.”

Matar’s writing style is frequently complimented. Yvonne Zipp of the Christian Science Monitor comments that In the Country of Men is “a knockout,” “emotionally wrenching and gorgeously written," and calls Matar’s writing "strikingly poetic.” Other critics, such as Ellen Emry of the Seattle Times, focus on Matar’s characters. Emry says that readers will be “haunted by Suleiman, his fate and his eventual awakening to the complexities of adult relationships."

In England, where the author lives, newspaper critics classified Matar’s novel as the super hit of the year. Jonathan Keates, writing for the Spectator, finds the main character, Suleiman, to be incredibly believable. “The viewpoint of his nine-year-old hero Suleiman remains plausible because the mature voice seeking to recapture it preserves its clarity and directness of engagement.” Although the setting provides the author with an automatic reference to politics, many reviewers find that this novel is about much more than the Qaddafi regime’s tactics. “Ultimately, this is a novel most concerned with relationships between people—friends, spouses, comrades and, particularly, parents and their children,” writes Kamila Shamsie for the Guardian. “Matar movingly charts the ways in which love endures in situations of great repression, but also shows how repression threatens everything, even love, putting relationships under a strain that can be unendurable.”

Finally, Ron Charles of the Washington Post speaks for many when he commends Matar for focusing “primarily on the psychological damage wreaked on his young narrator.”

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