In the Country of Men

by Hisham Matar

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


There is an obvious theme of betrayal in Matar’s novel. Suleiman thinks about this concept all through the story. The first example is presented after Rashid is arrested. Who has told on him? Who betrayed him? When Rashid is tortured, he comes across as a hero because he does not betray his friends. In particular, Rashid does not give up the name of Suleiman’s father. On the flip side, it is insinuated that Suleiman’s father was not so heroic, for he might have betrayed Rashid and been responsible for Rashid’s death by hanging.

Suleiman also plays out the sense of betrayal when he gives away Kareem’s secrets to the neighborhood boys. Suleiman is very much aware of his betrayal and is shamed by it. However, Suleiman does not connect his turning over of one of his father’s books to one of the arresting officers of Qaddafi’s regime as betrayal. All that is going around him confuses him. Suleiman turns the book in believing this might help his father and his family.

Suleiman, as he grows up, feels betrayed by his family, especially when they send him away. His mother often lies to Suleiman and his father often avoids telling him the truth throughout the story. But when his parents send him to Egypt telling him that it is just for a short visit, and he discovers that he is in Egypt to stay, he feels betrayed even more.


The theme of suppression is also present. There is the suppression of general human rights under the dictatorship of Qaddafi. The suppression of expression, especially in terms of criticism of the government, is the motive behind the arrests and tortures that occur. The suppression of privacy, as witnessed in wire-tapping in phone calls, is flagrant. There is also the suppression of women’s rights, as seen through Western eyes, at least, in Muslim culture in general. Suleiman’s mother has no right to choose her own husband. She also has few rights as a married woman, having to defer to her husband and other men in her life. The suppression of truth is present all around Suleiman as his parents continually hide the truth from him.


As many critics point out, an undercurrent of love holds this story together. Despite their silence and suppression of truth, Suleiman’s parents show subtle but deep expressions of love. The father, though often absent, provides his family with all the comforts he can afford. Though his outward expressions of love are small, it is obvious that he wants to keep his wife and son safe. As he is healing and must slow down his pace, his love for his family is more apparent. In comparison to the father, Suleiman’s mother’s love is more expressive. When she is not frightened, she loves cuddling with her son and telling him stories she shares with no one else. When her husband is home, she is strong and enlivened in her care of him. And Suleiman, despite his parents’ weaknesses, does his best to protect them out of love for them. Suleiman sometimes criticizes them, but when he is in their presence, all he feels is love.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access