Short listed for the Man Booker Prize-2006, this book shows the sensitivities of people caught in a politically changing Libya as seen and felt by a naïve child, Suleiman. The nine year old child goes to the market with his Mama and has a glimpse of his father who’s supposed to be out of town. While returning they are followed by the Revolutionary Committee men in a car. This was the same car that had forcefully and brutally taken away Uncle Rashid, who was not seen since then. But soon rumours spread that Uncle Rashid was a traitor. But Sueliman’s father doesn’t believe them; he says it is a blatant lie. Rashid’s son Kareem is Suleiman’s best friend. Suleiman’s mother had taken to drink ‘medicine’. In bits and pieces she blabbers her story. How she was forced into marriage, how sordid was the ‘first night’s’ conjugal experience and how Scheherazade of the Arabian Nights represents the hapless Muslim women. Suleiman and his Mama spend most of the time together. Somebody is placing printed letters criticising the Guide and the Revolutionary Committee. Everyone is scared of them. They tear them as quickly as possible. One night, Suleiman hears Uncle Moosa telling his mother that his father is lying low until they know what has happened to Rashid. His mother is not sure that Rashid won’t spill out Suleiman’s father’s name because she knows what those people are capable of. She remembers how three years ago students were hanged because they dared to speak. One day, when Uncle Moosa is visiting them, the men who had followed them in the car swarm into Suleiman’s house. They harshly question his mother and Uncle Moosa. They discover her ‘medicine’ bottle.. She begs them not to tell anyone about it. Uncle Moosa calms them down and offers them snacks, tea and cigarettes. Uncle Moosa’s father Judge Yaseen stayed back in Tripoli after Qaddafi’s September Revolution overthrew King Idris. Uncle Moosa brings a huge photo of Colonel Muammar el-Quaddafi, the Guide of the Libyan Popular Revolution. They hang it prominently as their loyalty is only a camouflage. They also burn all books and papers and burry the ashes. Suleiman manages to save one book Democracy Now. One night Suleiman’s father suddenly comes home. Surprisingly he isn’t angry. In fact he is pleased. He packs and hurriedly leaves the home again. Suleiman sees on the TV a public interrogation Uncle Rashid. He denies that Faraz, Suleiman‘s father had anything to do with it. Days later Suleiman finds the same white car standing outside his house. The same menacing man tries to solicit information about his father’s friends. Suleiman manages to tell nothing. Suleiman and his mother now find that someone else is always listening when they are talking on the phone. They become careful. Now more of their known ones are forcefully taken away.Suleiman’s mother approaches a government officer Ustad Jafer.
She offers money and begs for protection from the Revolutionary Committee. Ustad Jafer gives her his word. But still their fears continue troubling them. Suleiman sees Ustad Jafer talking to the ugly man in the white car. He shows his father’s book which he had kept hidden and which carries names. But now the ugly man surprisingly is not interested. On the TV Ustad Rashid is judged and sentenced to public hanging. The public hanging is carried out in the National Basketball Stadium and shown on the TV. Then they hear good news from the government officer Ustad Jafer that Suleiman’s father is now ‘cleared’. On returning, Suleiman’s father is kept in a darkened bedroom and all mirrors in the house are covered with sheets. Suleiman allowed to meet him only when the father’s wounds heal a little and the bed sheets are taken off the mirrors. It is normal times again. Suleiman often hears his father and mother talking and laughing merrily. He also once sees them making love. Yet, somehow life seems soul less. Suleiman hears his mother talking on the phone about a school in Cairo. He realises,a bit too late, that he is being sent away to join a school in Cairo. There he would live with Judge Yasin. Suleiman does not want to go. He tries to protest. But to no avail He is sent away to escape the compulsory military service at the age of fifteen. In Cairo somehow Suleiman becomes free of Libya. He studies medicine and becomes a pharmacist. In1979, a few days after he reached Cario, the Libyan people were asked to deposit their liquid assets in the National Bank. The individual withdrawals were limited to a thousand dinars a month and private savings were forbidden. Suleiman’s family found its wealth being swept off. They had now become poor. His father is now obliged to take a job in a nationalised pasta factory. Then an amnesty is announced which makes his father ‘free’. But the father doesn’t live long to see it. In Cairo, Suleiman meets his friend Kareem. And his aged mother too arrives. She is happy that she is now engaged to the Cultural Attache at their Embassy in India. This book of political persuasion and resistance has several other layers of happenings. It subtly brings out the good and the evil of common people including the child Suleiman. It makes an interesting and profitable reading.