What you see here on the blog is just the tip of the human rights literature iceberg. For each book we read there are three or four we have reluctantly set aside. As it happens, we have yet to read a book about Libya. We came close twice with Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men and many years ago with Ibrahim Al-Koni's The Bleeding of the Stone.
Matar's father, Jaballa, was an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience and the author has been quite visible in recent days. This very moving childhood reminiscence found on Slate renews my desire to have us discuss one of his books. The New Yorker provides this interview, with a link to a recent short story and a slideshow of Jaballa Matar,
Twenty years ago, your father, Jaballa Matar, was abducted in Cairo and forcibly returned to Libya. Your family received a couple of letters that had been smuggled out of Libya and, once, a tape recording that your father once managed to make in prison, but you don’t know whether he’s alive or dead. Have you learned anything new in recent days? Do you hold out any hope that he may still be alive?Matar also wrote in a recent NYT op-ed, What the West Can Do to Help the Libyan Rebels,
As soon as the revolution is complete, I will return to search for my father. For years after I lost him I wondered if all of his activism and sacrifice was for nothing. It was a terrible thing to carry around, this resentment. These days I can see that he and people like him were carving with their bare hands the first steps to this revolution. The protesters in the streets have not forgotten them. They carry their pictures above their heads.
Relatives, some as young as 16, who only days ago ran businesses or held jobs, attended high school or college, are now facing a well-equipped army made up mainly of foreign mercenaries. The Qaddafi forces have tanks and airplanes. All that my cousins have are old hunting rifles and captured artillery. Some rebels are using slingshots, knives and sticks.He further pleads for medical and food supplies to be sent to rebel-held areas. Hisham Matar has a new novel coming out in August (a smart publisher might move that date up). I'll be looking for the first opportunity to nominate Anatomy of a Disappearance.
Many years ago I did read Ibrahim Al-Koni's ecological fable, The Bleeding of the Stone and I'm dusting it off for another look. His novels of desert life are short and not overtly political (although The Puppet looks like it comes close). If you want a taste, you can read one of his stories in the Words Without Borders Libya issue as well as explore more fiction, nonfiction and poetry by other Libyan writers.
In addition to these fiction suggestions, Loyal Readers might be interested to know that Stephen Kinzer (Crescent and Star) has weighed in on Libya: see his argument against a no-fly zone in the Guardian and comment on NPR on the problem of dictators' sons.
Be sure to visit Amnesty International's "Mideast Uprising" page for actions on Libya and updates other crisis regions.