Friday, 26 September 2008

A Boy Growing up in Libya in the 1970's

Set In Libya In the 1970’s this is the story of a young boy who lives in Tripoli with his mother and father. His parents are educated people and his father a businessman, who has to go away on trips quite often. So the boy, Suleiman, has to spend a lot of time on his own and/or in the company of his mother.
The person who wrote this story, Hisham Matar, is actually the boy, as an adult. What I loved though was how he communicated to you, his sense of wonder at various things such as plants and people, as well as stories that his mother would tell him.

Also he gives a wonderful sense of this place, Tripoli, where he grew up. As well as being hot climatically, there was endemic fear, suspicion and oppression; the kind that makes people spy on their neighbors and forever have to watch their backs.
The ever-present leader of that country Gadiffi, demands utter ‘respect’ from his citizens. This is an Islamic culture, in which certain cultural mores and practices are just that, part of everyday life. The book gives endless utterances from that culture, which are religiously based and these were interesting to me. Being from a catholic background there were many phrases we used, that were religiously based, as well. For me it was interesting to get a sense of that culture and the period in which he and his parents lived.

You get to know the mind of a young 10 year old boy (I imagine this was his age) and to understand those things that are so important to him – like his little neighborhood friends, their relationships and competitiveness and his admiration of his father. How he doesn’t understand many ‘adult’ things but through the story you sense how he gradually becomes enlightened about many things including the concept of loyalty and betrayal. We hear of his friends father being taken away for questioning by the state police and later he comes to a horrific end which is shown on television, no doubt to terrorize any others, who dare to question or challenge ideas perpetuated by the regime. So along with the magical sense of the narrator’s childhood you also get to picture the lives of the adults in horrific detail and ultimately how these two aspects of life intertwine.

I would definitely recommend this book – it’s beautifully written and I felt a sense of loss once it had come to its conclusion. I admire people who can write novels such as this. What a wonderful talent.

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