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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing but not entirely satisfying first novel, 10 Oct. 2006
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This review is from: In the Country of Men (Hardcover)
Hisham Matar's first novel is a compelling short novel centred on Suleiman, a nine year old boy experiencing the domestic chaos of his embittered mother and the ramifications of the business, both commercial and political, his often-absent father becomes embroiled in. Matar is at his most convincing in his descriptions of the random acts of violence and betrayal young children inflict on their playmates, parents and the vulnerable, as well as the child's bafflement at the hidden machinations of their parents' domestic world, one so close to them but only perceived in fragments and misconceptions. The politics of the Qaddafi regime are always present and their effect on Suleiman often profound, but Suleiman the child, exploring the parameters of his world in the selfish focus of childhood, is the main focus. The narrative flits around like a child that becomes bored just concentrating on one thing. Whilst the novel is a mirror of the child Suleiman, the adult Suleiman telling his tale often intrudes and expresses his thoughts of what he endured as a child in language a nine-year old would not use. The child's perspective disappears completely in the last section of the book where Suleiman's adolescence and young adulthood are telescoped in a few pages. In this book much is touched on and yet much is also left out--the gaping holes of childhood recollections or a narrative technique designed to frustrate the reader? It's not an entirely satisfying read. Reservations aside, as a tale of a childhood in Libya, it is an engaging and at times terrifying look at a discontented adult world through the eyes of a not so innocent child.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 31 Jul 2014 14:35:53 BDT
KIKAREN says:
This is a very good review.
By choosing to narrate his story in the voice of a nine-year old boy however, Matar leaves an awful lot on the cutting room floor. Much the same technique was employed by Stephen Kelman in his novel, (Pigeon English) By Stephen Kelman (Author) Paperback on (Jul , 2011) and I always felt the tangential voice, if I can put it that way, diverged too much from the material. Its a writers choice, of course; show not tell. Infer rather than explain.It is a first novel and one cant be too critical of first novels but there just arent enough characters. He must have deliberately structured the book that way but by not developing the characters of the neighbours for example, or Baba's real business dealings, he has to invent unlikely scenes; the fire; the near-drowning; Moosa and his melting tyres and this line, 'Why dont you stuff this telephone up your arse'. Really?
I tend these days to avoid books or films 12 Years a Slave [Blu-ray] [2013] which deal with mans inhumanity to man and I found this a tough read, even though as I say he comes at his subject obliquely. What would be better, a full on narrative of torture and imprisonment under a dictator and lunatic? No, you need to place real people in the situation to comprehend the horror; the voice of a nine year old just doesn't get to grips with it. Maybe if the adult Slooma had told the story straight, looking backwards it would have been better. We could still have heard his Mama's tale, still got a sense of terror. More sense of terror, actually.
Anyway it has won loads of awards and many 5* reviews on here but I honestly cant say I would go around recommending it.
The end is very well handled, by the way.
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