Saturday, November 17, 2012

Two Books from Libya


I feel like pairing these two books because both are set in Libya, both are written by authors with ties to Libya, and both feature main characters who are on the outskirts of the violent changes in their world.

In the Country of MenIn the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher summary: Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman’s days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father’s constant business trips abroad. But his nights have come to revolve around his mother’s increasingly disturbing bedside stories full of old family bitterness. And then one day Suleiman sees his father across the square of a busy marketplace, his face wrapped in a pair of dark sunglasses.  Suleiman is soon caught up in a world he cannot hope to understand—where the sound of the telephone ringing becomes a portent of grave danger; where his mother frantically burns his father’s cherished books; where a stranger full of sinister questions sits outside in a parked car all day; where his best friend’s father can disappear overnight, next to be seen publicly interrogated on state television. 

Some authors make a political statement with their stories, powerful because of the emotional connections we make as readers to the circumstances. In this case, and despite the multiple awards and award nominations, I felt the story was a thin veil over circumstances that the author wanted to talk about. The nine year old makes confusing decisions, isn't afraid when a normal child would be, leading to destruction around him. He felt emotionally distant. At the same time, the author ends up not giving the reader very much background information on what is actually going on, since he tries to keep it to the world of that same nine year old. I'd have to go read another book to understand the context. I would prefer if it was all included here!

At the same time, I wonder if that was the author's intent - to portray the confusion a child would feel during war, revolution, and oppression. In his small universe, the parts of life he depends on - family, friends, school - are all disrupted by forces he isn't sure if he should fear or show loyalty to. He suspects his Dad may be a traitor, what is a child to do when he isn't told everything?

The Bleeding of the StoneThe Bleeding of the Stone by Ibrahim Kuni
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"I tell you. Be patient. How can you live in the desert without patience? The man who was never granted its contentment will never be happy there. I tell you. Use patience and cunning, they're the secrets of the desert...."
Asouf is a Bedouin living alone with his sheep in the cave-laden mountains of Libya. This novel tells his story and also stories of several surrounding characters, while also dipping into magical realism and mysticism.

2 comments:

  1. You raise an interesting issue: "I wonder if that was the author's intent - to portray the confusion a child would feel during war, revolution, and oppression."

    Since Matar has chosen a 9-year-old child as his narrator, it is essential, isn't it, that he present readers with a child's view of the world. But has Matar done that? Some readers, of whom I'm one, believe that the point of view Matar presents is too mature for a 9-year-old. You seems to agree when you say that our narrator "isn't afraid when a normal child would be."

    What are readers to do? Must we just suspend our disbelief on this point, accepting that Matar's narrator really is acting as a child typically would act?

    I found the matter of a 24-year-old mind in a 9-year-old child jarring, though I'm prepared to accept that the issue is quite moot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I agree with you. The entire novel didn't ring true, and this issue is largely to blame.

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