In the Country of Men (Penguin Essentials) Paperback – 22 Dec 2011
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Exquisite, so full of essential truths: the more you read the more you feel the childhood described in it is yours (Nadeem Aslam, Author Of Maps for Lost Lovers ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Publisher
In the Country of Men was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
2006 and the Guardian First Book Award 2006, and won the Commonwealth
Writers' Prize for Best First Book in the Europe and South Asia region. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Yet the innocence of the boy's perspective also helps to accentuate it, especially during the execution scene in the stadium and in the view he has in the dim light of the bedroom of his father's injuries after the protracted period of torture. The intimacy of the families is finely counterpoised with the sense of strangulation and cultural alienation experienced under the new regime. The book reminds me of The Kite Runner, especially with the mulberry/pomegranate link, but this one focuses more on the cramping vexations of childhood where identical wallpapered rooms, dusty courtyards and the sting of salt sea water on old wounds create such a potent atmosphere of repression for the reader.
It is an extremely intense and powerful story that I was unable to put down and yet was often painful to read, so strongly does the reader feel the pain and confusion of the narrator. For saying the action mostly takes place in one house and with relatively few characters, it is an immensely involving tale and never dull. It's written in such a way that the reader can understand what is going on even when as a child Suleiman isn't always entirely aware himself. But Suleiman is not merely a bystander - he plays his part in the events that unfold, even though he doesn't fully understand the implications of what he is doing.
Suleiman's mother is an interesting supporting character and the sub-plot concerning her lonely life and how she came to be married off against her will is an important element of the book. It shows a different aspect of life in a patriarchal society, whilst tying in with the overall themes of oppression and betrayal. The novel's central question is whether it is better to live a slave or stand up and die, and a clear answer is never really provided. But it's not one of those book's that tries to labour a key 'message' - rather it's a very well constructed and compelling story, that you only really see the 'themes' in when you look back it at after reluctantly finishing.
Fans of Khaled Hosseini will almost certainly enjoy this book as the style is similar and some of the themes here are also seen in Hosseini's novels - although this is a different story from any of them. Anyone who likes good writing will enjoy it and it is very readable. I will certainly be keen to read the author's next novel.
He is aware - but not fully comprehending - of people being 'taken away', tapped phone calls, televised interrogations and hangings, the home being under constant surveillance; and of the effect this is having on his mother, who mysteriously becomes 'ill' whenever his father is away (we soon learn this is thanks to alcohol which she procures illegally.)
The world around him, the half-truths with which adults try to shield him from the reality, starts to brutalize the child too...
A powerful read.
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