This is yet another country which I’ve never thought about. Libya under Qaddafi or the Guide as he has to be called. What is actually happening there to common people. Or just people. We don’t realize what it means to live under the constant threat of terror and fear. When the slightest rebellion can mean questioning, mutilation and death by hanging under the eyes of a mob which lusts for blood. Mob frenzy which sounds akin to the Romans cheering for death by violence. When a neighbour, a beggar, a relative, a person you thought was your friend can lead to your downfall. When your phones are tapped. And you don’t know where to turn for trust.
The story is told by a little boy, Suleiman called Shooma. Though love surrounds Shooma, he is left alone to his own devices a lot in troubled times. Neglected by his young mother who drinks to keep away the fear of her rebel husband being killed and his father who is involved in rebelling , Shooma is confused by the lies he meets at every angle . With no one to confide in, Shooma gets involved with the spies sent to investigate his father. In a climate of suspicion, he is alienated from the neighborhood boys.
Hisham Matar goes back to being a nine year old boy with his confusions and justifications. His love and need to protect his mother. The longing for his Fathers love of which he gets little demonstrably. His fights with the neighborhood boys.
At the very moment Suleiman wants and needs love, he drives away people. He finds a streak of cruelty in him. And it’s this exploration of a boy’s psyche that lifts the book up high. Parents of little boys and those without boys too should read it to know how confused and contrary a boy can be. Or any human being can be. It rings an echo within.
Interwoven is the story of Suleiman’s young, beautiful, willful mother who makes decisions for the good of the two men in her life- husband and son which are painful for their soul but necessary for them to live.
The writing is good and the story moving. One needs a little patience to read it through but one can see why it got shortlisted for the Man Booker.