Monday, August 28, 2006

arab weekend at v and a

Colourful displays of traditional Saudi costumes modelled by young Saudis were on show in the Italianate central courtyard, known as the John Madejski Garden, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, central London, last Saturday and Sunday.

The parades of costumes were part of the “Souq, Scripts and Soundbites” Arab Weekend held at the museum to celebrate the opening in July of the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art. The opening of this magnificent gallery is the culmination of a three-year renovation and redesign project made possible by a donation from the Jameel family of Jeddah.

In all, three weekends have been organised to mark the opening of the gallery. On August 5-6 there was a Turkish weekend, “Tulips, Tiles and Coffee Culture”, and on September 9-10 there will be an Iranian weekend, “Poetry, Picnics and Persian Pastimes.” As a prelude to the Arab Weekend, the late night opening of the V&A on Friday was devoted to Arab culture under the title “Arabise Me.”

The displays of Saudi nomadic tribal outfits were organised by the Mansoojat Foundation, a UK-registered charity set up by a group of Saudi women with “a passionate interest in the traditional ethnic textiles and costumes of Arabia.” The parades were complemented by a video on tribal costumes shown inside the museum.

The John Madejski Garden was transformed into an Arab souq, café and entertainment area for the weekend. In the eating area, the air was filled with the aroma of water pipes.

There was a multiplicity of events, including calligraphy workshops from the Amman-born calligrapher Nassar Mansour, screenings of the film “Le Grand Voyage”, tellings of Arabian stories by Joshua Gaillemin, and, on Sunday, readings and discussion from the Egyptian novelist and writer Ahdaf Soueif.

On Saturday there were performances by the Iraqi oud player Ehsan Emam, and by the Palestinian singer Reem Kelani and her three supporting musicians. The performances were due to have taken place in the John Madejski Garden, which would have provided an ideal venue, but for some reason the location was switched at the last minute to the Raphael Room. The echoey acoustics were far from ideal for music performances, but the outstanding talent of the performers shone through.

The timetabling of the weekend left something to be desired. The distinguished Lebanese-Syrian food writer Anissa Helou was scheduled to give a talk on Middle Eastern Street Food in the lecture theatre on Saturday at 12.30, but the time was abruptly altered to 11.30am. Not surprisingly, those planning to attend at 12.30 did not know about the change and the talk in the lecture theatre was therefore not as well attended as it should have been. Helou made her displeasure over the sudden rearrangement known by deciding not to give the talk scheduled for Sunday.

Susannah Tarbush, Saudi Gazette August 29 2006

Sunday, August 27, 2006

'in the country of men' on guardian shortlist; arabic version in december

There is further good news about Libyan writer Hisham Matar's novel In the Country of Men, following its longlisting for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize (it is the only debut novel on this year's longlist of 19 novels). The London-based Guardian newspaper has announced that In the Country of Men is among the ten books longlisted for the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award. In addition, there will be an Arabic version by the end of the year, published by Dar al-Muna of Sweden.

The Guardian prize is open to all genres of writing, fiction, poetry and non-fiction. The other fiction works on the longlist are by women: they are Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany Australia), Harbor by Lorraine Adams (USA), Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li (China). The shortlist will be announced in November, and the winner in December. Wikipedia calls the Guardian First Book Award "the oldest and best-established of the awards sponsored by a newspaper."

As for the Man Booker Prize, the shortlist will be announced in mid-September and the winner at a dinner on October 10.

Meanwhile, a publishing deal has been reached under which Dar al-Muna, the Stockholm-based publishing house, will publish the Arabic translation of In the Country of Men. Publication is set for December. Before the Arabic rights were sold, rights had arleady been sold in 13 other languages. The novel is being translated into Arabic by the Lebanese writer Sukaina Ibraheem.

Mona Henning, who was born Zureikat in Amman, Jordan, established Dar al-Muna after moving to Sweden (she is a pharmacy graduate of the American University of Beirut).

Henning says Dar Al-Muna was keen to publish the Arabic edition of In the Country of Men "because of its artistic value and the sincere and honest human touch in it. The child is trying all the time to remember the innocence part of his childhood in spite of all the sad experiences. The author describes incidents, places, so vividly that you feel as if you are around all the time." She adds: "It is the child in In the Country of Men who makes you enter his own world of hopes, suspicion, longing, love and hate. Children are genuine in nature and this makes the story so near to the reader from the very first page."

Dar Al-Muna has specialised in translating world-famous works by Scandinavian authors into Arabic. The authors who have been translated include Astrid Lindgren (who wrote Pippi Longstocking), Jostein Gaarder whose translated works are Sofie's World (Alam Sofie), the Orange Maid (Fatat Al Burtuqal) and a few days ago The Kabal Mystery (Sir Al Sabr).

Mona Henning points out that Gaarder has recently been much mentioned in the Arabic press because of his article critical of Israel published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

Dar Al-Muna has published many children's books, and in 1999 Henning was awarded by Swedish Authors' Union prize for her efforts to spread reading among children. This year she was among the nominees for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

"For the moment we are doing it the other way round, and translating Mahmoud Darwish into Swedish," Henning says. Dar Al-Muna is producing three of his works simultaneously in Swedish translation - Halat Hisar, Sarir Al Ghariebah and Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?

Susannah Tarbush

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

banipal live young arab writers' tour

The fallout from the war in the Middle East has inevitably had some effect on the Banipal Live 2006 Young Arab Writers’ tour held from 14 to 20 August. Four writers from the Arab world were scheduled to travel to Britain for the tour, which was organised by Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature, the British Council and The Reading Agency.

One of the writers, the Lebanese journalist, poet and translator Joumana Haddad, was trapped in Lebanon by the war. But she sent a recorded message which was played at the tour’s welcome reception held at Mary Ward House in Bloomsbury, the traditional heart of literary London. In the message Haddad read her exuberantly passionate poem “The Panther Hidden at the Base of her Shoulders”, translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker.

The work of Palestinian writer Ala Hlehel (above right), who lives in Acre, Israel, was given new urgency and relevance by the conflict. At the reception he read from his prescient short story “War”, translated by Anthony Calderbank. In this characteristically sharp, satirical story Hlehel tells of attacks on Haifa seen through the eyes of a Palestinian.

The Syrian poet Abed Ismael (above left) read his self-translated poem “A School Hobby”, and “A Mere Ghost” translated by Issa J Boullata. Mansoura Ez-Eldin of Egypt read from her short story “Conspiracy of Shadows” translated by Paul Starkey. Starkey has described Ez-Eldin's first novel as "remarkable, not only for its freshness of vision but also for its prevision of language - a truly original creation."

To accompany the tour Banipal Books published “Unbuttoning the Violin”, a 122-page anthology of poems and short stories by the four authors. The four have also posted contributions to a tour blog on the British Council website.

The tour included London, Chesterfield, Derby, Manchester and South Shields. The finale took place on Sunday, at the Edinburgh Book Festival in Scotland. The tour producer, Banipal editor and publisher Margaret Obank, pointed out that alongside the tour “we are doing a pilot project with public libraries to encourage people to read Arab authors in translation.”

The tour attracted considerable interest, partly because of recent events in the Middle East, and in last Sunday's edition of BBC Radio Four's Open Book, the popular presenter Mariella Frostrup interviewed Hlehel and Ismael. Ismael, who teaches American literature at Damascus University, is a translator as well as a poet and said in his experience as a tranlslator into Arabic, Latin American writers are still more popular than their European counterparts.

Asked by Frostrup which authors they would recommend to those wishing to explore Arab literature further, Hlehel said: "Let's start with Samuel Shimon, he's a great writer. He wrote An Iraqi in Paris; I think it's moving and a very courageous book. Writers like Raouf Masad should be read, I think he's a great writer." Ismael recommended Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef. "His poetry is characterised by simplicity, he puts a lot of passion in it, let alone the fact that he doesn't have a problem in transcending all taboos."

Sarah Ewans, British Council regional director for the Near East and North Africa said in her address at the welcome reception that the tragedy happening in the Middle East was “really bad news for relationships between people and countries…from our point of view it makes projects like this even more important, to link writers and artists from the region to the UK.”

Ewans said that British Council experience and research in the Near East and North Africa has found that young people in the region “really want the opportunity to convey their ideas and experience to their counterparts here in the UK, and it is very important this is on their own terms, and not on anyone else’s.”

Susannah Tarbush (shorter version published in Saudi Gazette, 22 August 2006)



The boy – who killed his father –
is still running

As he runs
fields, clouds and nights run with him

shadows run with him
and the house he left behind

The river is running,
as is his note-book
and his exam.

The boy is running
and memory runs with him
The midnight mirror,
the birds flying in his sleep
things and names also run.

in his fancy a blade shines
the cry itself shines
the sun emerges from the cry
and blood is running…

At his footsteps shines a blade
in his fingers which grasp the wind
a blade is running…

a blade endlessly running in his blood.

Abed Ismael
(translated by the author from his collection Sa’at Ramil. Translation first published in Banipal No 23, Summer 2005)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

hisham matar and naeem murr on man booker longlist

This year's longlist for the Man Booker prize includes two novels by authors of Arab origin - Hisham Matar of Libya, and Naeem Murr (left) whose late father was Lebanese. Matar is longlisted for his debut novel In the Country of Men published in the UK by the Penguin Books imprint Viking, and Murr for his third novel The Perfect Man whose UK publisher is William Heinemann, part of Random House.

Coincidentally, both novels will be published in the US in early 2007 by Random House (Matar's by the Dial division).

The Man Booker, worth £50,000, is Britain's most prestigious literary prize. It is tempting to see the inclusion of two Arab authors on the 19-novel longlist as a major breakthrough for Arab diaspora novelists writing in English. But while Matar's novel is set in Libya, Murr, who comes from a famous extended family in Lebanon, has not directly drawn on Arab settings in his work, although he explores themes of migration, deracination and belonging. In the Country of Men and A Perfect Man have both received highly positive reviews in the Times Literary Supplement and other UK publications.

Murr and Matar are up against stiff competition from a longlist that includes David Mitchell's Black Swan Green (the bookies' favourite to win), two-times Booker winner Peter Carey's Theft: A Love Story, Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, Jewish author Howard Jacobson's comic novel Kalooki Nights, and South African Nobel prizewinner Nadine Gordimer's Get A Life.

The best known Arab contender for the Booker to date has been the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif (a longtime resident of London) who was shortlisted for her epic historical novel set in Egypt, The Map of Love, in 1999. The Australian novelist David Malouf, who like Murr is of Lebanese extraction, was shortlisted in 1993 for Remembering Babylon.

Murr's paternal family come from the town of B'tighreen in the Metn region north east of Beirut. Murr's father Samir met his Irish mother Eileen McGuinness while he was studying engineering in London, and Naeem was born in London in 1965. The following year his father died in a car crash in the desert in Libya where he was working as an engineer. Murr has lived in the USA since his early 20s and currently resides in Chicago. Murr's mother maintained the links with the Murr family in Lebanon, and when he was growing up Murr visited Lebanon for vacations and family weddings, and he spent several months living with his uncle in Beirut at the age of 10.

Hisham Matar was born in New York City in 1970 to Libyan parents. He grew up in Tripoli until 1979 (the year in which his first-person narrator novel is set), when the family had to flee to Cairo. He has been based in London since 1988. Matar has contributed essays and reviews to the Arab daily newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, and has had poetry published. In 2002 his poetry made him a finalist in East Anglia's Best New Talent Awards. His varied CV includes acting on stage and working as an architect, stonemason and university lecturer.

Murr’s first novel, The Boy, published in 1998, was New York Times Notable Book, won a Lambda Literary Award, and was translated into six languages. The Genius of the Sea followed in 2003. The Perfect Man was published in Britain in April.

Murr has received numerous awards and scholarships for his writing. He published a number of prize-winning stories, novellas and non-fiction pieces in literary journals. He was a Stanford University Creative Writing Fellow, and was recently awarded a Lannan Residency Fellowship. Murr has been a writer-in-residence at numerous universities, including the University of Missouri, Western Michigan University, and Northwestern University.

The chairman of this year's Man Booker judges, the Oxford Professor of English Literature Hermione Lee, said of the longlist: ""We have many regrets about some of the novels we've left off, and we could easily have had a long-list of about 30 books, but we're delighted with the variety, the originality, the drama and craft, the human interest and the strong voices in this longlist. "

She added: "It's a list in which famous novelists rub shoulders with little-known newcomers. We hope that people will leap at it for their late summer reading and make up their own short-list."

The 19 longlisted books were chosen from a list of 112, of which 95 were submitted by publishers. A further 17 were not submitted but were called in by the judges. The other judges are poet Simon Armitage, novelist and reviewer Candia McWilliam, actress Fiona Shaw and writer and reviewer Anthony Quinn.

Susannah Tarbush

Saturday, August 12, 2006

yasmina khadra's novel 'the attack'

There are some well-known examples of women writing under male pseudonyms. The 19th century English novelist Mary Anne (Marion) Evans wrote under the name George Eliot, so as to be taken seriously as a novelist. Some women fiction writers today prefer to use their initials rather than their full first name to try to avoid possible discrimination against women writers.

For a male writer to use a female pseudonym is rarer. The case of the Algerian writer who writes under the name Yasmina Khadra is particularly unusual. Khadra wrote police thrillers in Algeria, and has also written a string of political novels. Eventually the author was revealed to be a former Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul (pictured above left), writing under the name of his wife.

Moulessehoul writes in French, and five of his novels have been translated into English. He moved to live in France in 2001 and it was then that he “came out” and disclosed Khadra’s real identity. For some, his background casts a permanent shadow over his writing and his agenda. There have been accusations that in his novels chronicling the war of the radicals within Algeria, he documents the atrocities perpetrated by radicals while ignoring those allegedly carried out by the Algerian army.

In 2002 the International Parliament of Writers withdrew the protection it had accorded Moulessehoul and his family, after he defended Algeria’s army against accusations that it massacred civilians.

Khadra’s novels have done well, particularly “The Swallows of Kabul”, written from the point of view of an Afghan woman suffering under the Taleban. The novel was shortlisted for the IMPAC prize.

Khadra’s latest book, “The Attack”, won the Prix des Libraires in France, and was shortlisted for the Goncourt, Femina and Renaudot prizes. In Britain, where it was published recently by William Heinemann in English translation, it has been widely, and on the whole favourably, reviewed.

In “The Attack”, Khadra continues to explore the relationship between politics, violence and religion. The first-person narrator Amin Jaafari is an Arab surgeon practising in a Jewish hospital in Israel. Despite his Bedouin origins, he has succeeded in entering “the brotherhood of the highly educated elite”.

Jaafari has been married for 10 years to Sihem, in what he considers a happy union. He is devastated when she dies in a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv restaurant which kills 19 people including 11 schoolchildren. His grief turns to disbelief when he finds she was the suicide bomber.

Jaafari sets out to discover why Sihem did what she did, and to uncover the lies she had told him. She had told him she was going to stay at her grandmother’s farm near Nazareth, but she was actually driven to Bethlehem before returning to Tel Aviv to carry out the bombing.
Although Khadra’s writing has power and clarity, Sihem remains an obscure figure and her motivation is not wholly convincing. Her husband’s investigations take him into perilous confrontations with certain family members and radicals in Bethlehem and Jenin. At the same time he is forced to review his position as an Arab who has done well within the Israeli medial establishment. One of the men he meets in the West Bank describes him as the “serviceable Arab par excellence” Driven to the edge of madness, Jaafari finds he is suspected by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette August 8 2006

zoe rahman shortlisted for the mercury

In the seven years since she was awarded the title ‘Perrier Young Musician of the Year’, the Bangladeshi-British jazz pianist Zoe Rahman has emerged as a leading figure on the British jazz scene. Now her profile has taken a further leap upwards, with the shortlisting of her second album, “Melting Pot” for the £20,000 Nationwide Mercury Prize. The winner of the prize will be announced at the awards ceremony on September 5.

To be shortlisted for the Nationwide Mercury is a major achievement for Rahman, who was born in Chichester, near the English south coast, and received her musical education at Oxford University and Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA.

“Melting Pot” is the only jazz CD on the shortlist of 12, which also includes the Arctic Monkeys with “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”, Thom Yorke with “The Eraser”, Guillemots with “Through the Windowpane” and Editors with “The Back Room.”

The Mercury Prize was established 14 years ago in memory of Freddie Mercury, the late singer of rock band Queen. The Arctic Monkeys are currently favourite to win. Even if Rahman doesn’t win the prize, the shortlisting of “Melting Pot” has already led to an upsurge of media and public interest in her work, and is bound to lead to substantially increased sales of the album.

The Nationwide Mercury shortlist is the latest accolade for Rahman. Her debut album “The Cynic” was shortlisted for the BBC Radio 3 Jazz Album of the Year. In May this year, “Melting Pot” won the Album of the Year award from the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group.

Rahman is from a musically gifted family. Her brother Idriss plays woodwind (including the clarinet on “Melting Pot”), and her sister Sophie is a classical pianist of note.

In addition to her own trio, Rahman regularly performs with other ensembles including Clark Tracey’s New Quintet, and her brother Idris’s group Soothsayers. She is one of the musicians on Palestinian singer Reem Kelani’s debut album “Sprinting Gazelle” which was released earlier this year.

Rahman has been preparing for a trip to Bangladesh to explore the country’s musical roots and to meet family members, and has been learning some Bengali from a “Teach Yourself” book. The one track on “Melting Pot” not written by her is the Bengali song “Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli” written by singer and composer Hemant Mukherjee. Rahman has added her reworkings of several other Mukherjee songs to her repertoire.

Rahman is undoubtedly a jazz performer with a great future ahead of her. Her many fans will be keeping their fingers crossed on the night of September 5 when the winner of the Nationwide Mercury is announced.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, August 8 2006

Saturday, August 05, 2006

London demonstration on Lebanon and Palestine

London demonstration 5 August 2006

Friday, August 04, 2006

libyan novel: 'in the country of men'

In the Country of Men
Hisham Matar
Viking, London, 2006

This first novel by the Libyan writer Hisham Matar, who has lived in London for many years, has generated much excitement in publishing circles. The Bookseller hailed it as “the most highly prized literary debut of the autumn.”

Within a week of Matar’s literary agent submitting the novel to publishers, it was the subject of a highly competitive auction in the UK. The auction was won by the Penguin imprint Viking, which gave Matar a two-book deal. There were also auctions abroad, and the rights to the book were sold in 14 countries prior to publication.

The novel does not yet have an Arab publisher, but Matar regards the Arabic translation as “without a doubt the most important one for me out of all the translations.” The novel is currently being translated by the London-based Iraqi short story writer and literary critic Luay Abulilah.

Matar says: “I think he’s done a very good job; he’s managed to get under the skin of the language. The language is deceptively simple, but it’s got tones and colours and there’s something sensuous about it.”

Viking’s editorial director Mary Mount, editor of the novel, rates it as “a very rare find…the sort of book that makes publishing worthwhile.” Matar is “a very serious writer who puts an enormous amount into his writing” and editing with him was a “wonderful experience.” In her view he has “a huge future as a writer”.

Some novels fail to live up to their pre-publication publicity, but In the Country of Men fully deserves the accolades it received before publication from novelists of the calibre of JM Coetzee, Nadeem Aslam and Anne Michaels.

Matar has produced an accomplished and moving novel, at once accessible and mysterious. It is a literary novel, yet intensely readable. He has written poetry for much of his life, particularly focusing on it since the mid-1990s, and his gift for language is much in evidence in his prose.

In the involving, many-layered narrative, the first-person narrator Suleiman looks back to his nine-year-old self trying to make sense of the confusing family and political events that whirled around him in Tripoli in summer 1979, “that last summer before I was sent away”.

The novel is expertly paced, and the tension builds to an almost unbearable pitch as the net closes around Suleiman’s father and his associates, who are linked to a student democracy movement.

In the book’s concluding section Suleiman, now 24 years old, tells of the fifteen years that have elapsed since his parents sent him into exile in Cairo. Although he integrated quickly into Egyptian society, “I suffer an absence, an ever-present absence, like an orphan not entirely certain of what he has missed or gained through his unchosen loss.”

Matar was born in New York in 1970 to a diplomat father, and lived in Tripoli between the ages of three and nine. In 1979 the family was forced to leave Libya and moved to exile in Egypt after his father was threatened with interrogation and arrest during a crackdown by the regime.

Much worse was to come. In March 1990, while Matar was at school in England, his father Jaballah disappeared from the family home in Cairo. It is assumed that, like several other Libyan dissidents, he was abducted and handed over to the Libyan regime. To this day, despite representations to the Libyan leadership and the taking up of the case by human rights groups including Amnesty International, Matar and his family do not know whether his father is alive or dead.

Matar stresses that his novel is not autobiographical, although it is permeated by a sense of loss, exile and ambiguity. Nor does he see himself as a political writer. Rather, he is concerned with “how people change over time, how circumstances alter the human heart.”

Matar set the novel in Libya because of his interest in “certain themes that are very much to do with Libya. And I also feel that as far as the literary voice of Libya is concerned, it’s not a very vocal voice. It’s a silent country – at least that’s the impression the world has, I think with good reason.”

He adds: “The kind of literature that stands the test of time is the kind of literature that comes out of urgency, that comes out of a sense that it has to be written. In a way the book writes the author, and that kind of book doesn’t come by choice.”

The novel is intricately structured, but Matar did not start out with a plot outline. For him writing is exploration, and “what determined the structure was the voice. The voice really intrigued me, and it is what kept me interested and committed. It kept nagging at me.”

Matar spent the first phase of work on the novel trying to meet the technical challenges of writing in the voice of a nine-year-old. “What does it mean to be nine years old? How do you perceive the world? There is something quite unique about children, the present seems eternal and there isn’t really any experience of time passing. In many ways it’s quite a positive thing because a lot of them live in the moment and their living experience tends to be extremely intense.”

One theme running through the book is Suleiman’s anxiety over questions of masculinity and what it is to be a man. Suleiman is an only child, and when his father is away on business trips he is forced to become the man of the house and to look after his mother. She drinks the “medicine” (illicit grappa) that she covertly obtains from the local baker, and when she is drunk, or “ill” as Suleiman interprets it, she uses her son as the sounding board for her dissatisfactions. She recalls that “black day” when she was forced by her brothers to get married to a stranger at the age of only 14 after she was seen in a café drinking coffee with a boy.

Matar charts the boy’s ambivalence towards his mother. “I remembered the words she had told me the night before, ‘We are two halves of the same soul, two open pages of the same book,’ words that felt like a gift I didn’t want.”

In the novel’s opening scene Suleiman has been told that his father is away on business, but during a shopping trip with his mother he glimpses him in Martyr’s Square followed by his office clerk Nasser carrying a typewriter. His father enters a building, and Suleiman sees him at a top floor window hanging a small red towel on the clothesline.

The father is a rather distant figure; Suleiman wishes his father could be more like Ustath Rashid, his father’s best friend, or Moosa`, the Egyptian judge’s son who provides Suleiman with friendship and affection.

On their way home, mother and son are followed by a car carrying four men in dark safari suits. “I remembered so suddenly I felt my heart jump. They were the same Revolutionary Committee men who had come a week before and taken Ustath Rashid.”

Suleiman witnesses Ustath Rashid’s televised “confession”, summary trial and hanging in a sports stadium in front of a hysterical cheering mob. The televised execution of Ustath Rashid “… would leave another, more lasting impression on me, one that has survived well into my manhood, a kind of quiet panic, as if at any moment the rug could be pulled from beneath my feet.”

The novel depicts a society of informers and mukhabarat, where leaflets criticising the Revolutionary Committees circulate overnight, and where telephones are crudely tapped.

The world of boys and their games runs parallel to the adult world. Matar’s best friend Kareem is Ustath Rashid’s son and the arrest of Ustath Rashid affects the dynamic between the boys. Suleiman is caught up in betrayals and complicities and experiences the fleeting pleasures of the misuse of power.

The mother and Moosa burn the father’s books in order to protect him, but Suleiman hides one of the books. After the father is seized, the mother makes a humiliating appeal for his life to a neighbour who is a senior member of the mukhabarat. When Suleiman’s father returns home from his brutal ordeal, he and the mother draw closer and find a new mutual need and passion which tends to shut out their son.

After Suleiman is sent alone to live in Cairo, a series of decrees in Libya ruin his parents financially and his father goes to work in a pasta factory. Suleiman finds the Libyan embassy has a file on him as an “evader” because he has not returned for military service. When he is fourteen a decree is issued warning that all “Stray Dogs” who refuse to return will be hunted down. His parents are refused a visa to leave the country, “holding them hostage, as it were, until the evading Stray Dog returned.”

Suleiman asks: “Why does our country long for us so savagely? What could we possibly give her that hasn’t already been taken?”

In the Country of Men has a transcendent quality that lifts it above its often harrowing subject matter. As an adult, Suleiman learns what became of the people he knew as a child in Tripoli, and how they have adapted to their situation. The novel ends on a note of gentle and hopeful resolution.

Susannah Tarbush

Unedited version of review published in Banipal magazine No 26, Summer 2006