Gaddafi's Revolution subject of novel In the Country of Men

by Andrea Boggs | July 11, 2017

Reading the novel In the Country of Men was so compelling I finished the 246 page book in less than 3 days. A better title could have been given to the book considering the main charachters whome the story revolves around are a 12 year old boy and his mother and what happens to the other people in their lives.

The story follows an only child who is the narrator and the son of a "traitor" who is active in an anti-revolutionary committee.

The child narrator's ignorance of politics and the danger his father is demonstrated throughout the novel especially when the child nearly exposes his father’s list of friends at the request of a spy. The boy’s realistic behavior flows without regard to being consciously good or bad, he is simply a child, with irreverence to doing right or wrong, although his conscience does speak to him after he has been particularly cruel, in the form of a reprimanding internal voice. One minute he is pouring his mom’s medicine (alcoholic beverage that is illegal) down the drain and next minute he is throwing rocks at the back of a poor man who panics at the sight of the bottle after the child has let the beggar inside and fed him during his mother’s nap.

It is a shocking book that depicts life in an Arab country during a revolution. Political revolutions always have opponents, whether the revolutions are religious in nature, led by rebel insurgents, military coups, or some combination thereof, the opponents are often the less extreme people, the educated, the wealthy, the upper middle class and so it is true in this book.

I was impressed by the authentic imagination of the chid where the themes are often oedipal. Sometimes his mind is absorbed in a fantasy in which he is his real age, 9, and his mother is his 14 year old companion, she at the age right before she was forced to marry his father. In his imaginary thoughts he rescues her from her fate of marrying his father and from himself.

The book takes place in Libya in 1979, the year Moammar Gaddafi’s militaristic regime seized power over the country from the King of Libya. Gaddafi is called the “Guide” by his followers who support the revolution. In an attempt to appear like they are in favor of the revolution, after the father is in hiding, the mother and a friend hang a huge framed picture of the Guide in the living room.

This book is timely, preceding the actual death of Libya’s ruler in 2011. The brutal manner of the Libyan president’s death in real life, was ironically similar to the kind of violence used against “traitors” his political opponents such as the business man father, and his friend the art history professor.

The shocking climax of this book occurs at the very middle of the story making the flow of action like a pyramid of Cairo where the child is sent to live. In this climactic scene symbolizing the worst of Arab political revolutions, an art history professor is hung inside a brand new national basketball stadium in front of a packed crowd gathered for a political rally of Gaddafi’s bloodthirsty supporters. The hanging is televised. The author describes men hugging his legs and the women ululating in excitement. A more devastating picture of nationalistic Arabs at their worst has probably never been written.

The essence of capturing the hypocrisy that plagues society, and creating an artitificial moment in time that mimics that reality in a scene, so as to study it and criticize it's occurence may be the goal of a great writer and the mark of great literature. It is the way such cruelty is undermined. In this award winning novel it is accomplished.

After seeing your friend’s dad hung live on TV it is only natural you would grow up to consort with prostitutes. The child is sent away to school in Cairo where he lives with a judge and grows up to becomes a pharmacist. In a nod to the artistry of the author's literary predecessor the Egyptian Nobel prize for Literature winner Naguib Mahfouz, the author shows his adult Suleiman, living in Cairo, running across the street to buy cigarettes with a prostitute sitting in the passenger seat of his car. She momentarily assumes the role of wife, sister, relative, friend… whatever a passerby might imagine.