In the Country of Men is a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the private fallout of a public nightmare. But above all, it is a debut of rare insight and literary grace.
In the Country of Men brings to mind 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and the other great science fiction of totalitarianism in the way it posits a cruelly simplified and nonsensical universe. The young boy who is its first-person narrator can only sometimes make this world coherent … Matar s understanding may feel so refined because it s distilled from the long contemplation of his own experiences. Like the narrator, he was born in 1970 and last saw Libya in 1979. His father, a dissident former diplomat exiled in Egypt, was kidnapped there in 1990 and imprisoned and tortured in Tripoli. He was last heard from in 1995. Qaddafi s regime imprisoned or hanged three of Matar s cousins, an uncle and several friends. In interviews and in his writing, he maintains a public composure. As a novelist, his self-control is impressive.