Thursday, May 11, 2017

In the country of men by Hisham Matar

It's such a wonderful feeling, when a book that you appreciated and enjoyed very much won an award and a major recognition. As a reader it was a very special and satisfying feeling when Hisham Matar's The Return won the Pulitzer prize. The prize only drove me to complete faster his novel, 'In the country of Men' that i had been carrying for some time now.

Having read his memoir, i could gather that Hisham has based the story of ' In the country of Men' (ITCOM) based on his experiences as a child in Libya. ITCOM is the story of a boy pushed abruptly into the 'strong' world of manhood amidst turbulent times that his country and family are going through. 

The story for most part is confined within the walls of Boy's simple home and family and occasionally spills into his street, neighbors and friends. However, Hisham manages to bring in the turbulence that a country and a handful of people are going through with amazing clarity and brevity of a docu-drama.

 Hisham also manages to stay clear of falling into the trap of being relegated to being a chronicler of times, by lacing the narration with thinner in the drama of innocence brimming in the voice of the boy, with descriptions that paint an impressionistic scene of the scenic shores of the Tripoli and its vicinity dotted with historic monuments and also sneaking in a tuft of literary soundings from the Libyan literary scape.

Like cool drops of rain falling on an otherwise dreary landscape, we are treated with Abd al Sammad's rendering of the Quran, and Sheikh Mustafa's interpretations; Septimus Severus comes down to us as a vestige of ancient times and a prominent landmark in the city-scape; and characters from the Arabian nights make flashing appearences as heroes.

There are moments that remind one of childhood spent anywhere- Like, ' when he (Father) is home everything is normal, she is never ill and i am never woken up like this to find everything changed' and when you strangely envy a friend for his sickness, ' His illness had earned him a peculiar sort of strength and gained him something none of us had: a private world... His room was like a little house , with things that belonged only to him'

The television and Telephone play crucial roles in the novel in shattering the boy's innocent world. The telephone shatters the lies the boy's father spurns around his long absences, it also brings him in close contact with the intrusions and ugly world of spying. The television brings home ugly scenes of the public execution of a dear neighbor and the mad behaviour of the crowd.

These spurts of violence on the boy show up as aberrations in his behavior towards his friends and family. However he is saved just in time and packed off to a neighbouring country where he grows up to the news of his father's death and receiving his widowed mother in a foriegn land. Leaving us with hopes that he has grown up to be the man who can bring back normalcy to her life. 

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