When reading this book I found myself thinking of Ian McEwan's Atonement or L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between. An odd connection to make, in many ways, with their golden summers and racketty affluence. Late 1970s Libya does not at all have the benign somnolence of Edwardian England: instead, it is edgy, tense and brutal. However, what Matar's book does share with these other two is the child's-eye view that misconstrues events and wreaks an unwitting destruction.
The narrator is nine-year-old Suleiman, the only child of his 'Baba' (father) Faraj el Dewani and 'Mama' Najwa. His father is emotionally distant and caught up in political activities, and Suleiman prefers his father's friend Moosa, who although a fellow-activist, has a more demonstrative and affectionate relationship with the young boy. His mother Majwa is an alcoholic (no small thing in a country where alcohol is banned).
Suleiman is an observer, not understanding the political ramifications of what he is seeing. Sulieman exists in a world of "quiet panic, as if at any moment the rug could be pulled from beneath my feet". In the mess that Libya has become since Gaddafi's overthrow, it's easy to forget the menace of his regime.
It was good to read about a country and politics that is unfamiliar to me, even though the tropes of innocence, bravery and courage are universal. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and I enjoyed it.
1979, in Tipoli, nine year old Suleiman witnesses increasing unrest amongst his family and friends. Slowly he slides into the banality of evil that is possessing them; he betrays his best friend, he lies to his mother, he lashes out at his father. But in the blinding glare of Libya's Revolutionary Committee he feels that he is just doing his duty as a 'man'.
I read that this was "the Libyan Kite Runner", in the sense of being told through the eyes of a young boy with the back drop that of a country in turmoil. Lyrical language and sense of foreboding throughout.
The novel foreshadows Matar's later book, "Anatomy of a Disappearance". Set in Lybia, the father disappears in this novel as well.
An excellent novel to help you understand what's happening in Libya today - although not for the faint of heart. Matar exposes the weaknesses in all his characters. His language is also quite beautiful.
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