2006, 245 p.
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. It was my selection for my bookgroup, and I was a little apprehensive about how it would be received, but ‘the ladies’ liked it too. (Unfortunately I left this blogpost half-written, and I’ve forgotten the detail about the book. Sorry!)
Read because: It was a CAE bookgroup.