Colonialism is not one of my favourite words, but neither is post-colonialism. It is however naturally the basis for so many novels set in Africa. In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar is a highly political novel set in the late 1970s Libya. It’s about a boy, still being a typical boy playing games, but on the verge of growing into a man, often misinterpreting what it actually means to be an adult.
Suleiman’s life is not easy. His mother is an alcoholic, the regime is after his father, and neighbours and people around him disappear, or might suddenly appear live on TV to be executed. Life under the rule of Qaddafi has a vital part in the story, but the main themes are more universal; what it means to be human, what it means to be a man, but above it all it is about relationships. Relationships between different people; friends, family, neighbours, and the relationship between a country and its inhabitants. Let us not forget about themes like justice, freedom, exile, and identity. Some of the most common pot-colonial themes.
One theme that I have recently realized is becoming more common in African literature is addiction, in this case alcoholism. An issue all too familiar in many countries, but I think it’s still too much of a taboo in many African nations, especially when a female, a mother, suffers from alcoholism.
The read sad part in this book is when the narrator “turns against” humanity. He betrays many close ones, and he can be sadistic when he wants to. After a short shameful haze he goes on with his life, not really regretting what he has done.
The book is written from a child’s point of view, a child with limited understanding of the adult world around him. An adult reader can of course see what the boy is struggling with, for example his mother’s alcohol problem. Much in the story goes back to the author’s own childhood. He was a young boy at the end of the 70s, his father disappeared, like so many other fathers facing the violent regime.
Is it worth reading the book? Yes, it has an interesting point of view, a child’s, with context only adults can understand. It gives the reader a glimpse of what life in Libya was like under Qaddafi’s regime, and it takes stands on universal themes. However, it was not a memorable book. Quite frankly, without going back and reading bits and pieces throughout the book I would have forgotten everything about it.