In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar is his first book and was short listed for the Booker Prize this year. Set in
Suleiman is the only child of his parents, a businessman father who is often away, and his unhappy mother who has become a secret alcoholic. They are comfortably off and live in a new development of houses in
One day Suleiman sees his father in the centre of
There is a growing swell of resistance to the harsh realities of life under Muammar Ghaddafi, and many students and others are involved in secret attempts to oppose his government. In the summer of 1979 his regime cracks down on anyone suspected of being linked to opposition, and the father of Suleiman’s closest friend is arrested and taken away, and shortly afterwards Suleiman’s own father is also arrested, some of his business trips have been a cover for organising the dissidents. Those who have been arrested and tortured a made to give public confessions on television, public executions are held in
In totalitarian regimes there is always a price to be paid by the family for the actions of a dissident, and Suleiman pays it by being sent out of harm’s way to stay with friends in
As a piece of writing, this book is very patchy and Matar is far from a mature author, in fact I am surprised it made it onto the Booker short list; however it is worth reading for the portrait it paints of life in a country of which we know relatively little.
Polyglot is one of the words often used to describe London, and I would certainly agree. In the east end Youth Court where I sit regularly we see people who speak many different languages, and if their ability to speak English is poor or non-existant we have a duty under the Human Rights Act to ensure they are provided with a translator. I have often wondered how much this provision must be costing the justice system. Translators are paid around £75 per half day, and frequently the work involved only takes ten or fifteen minutes. some of the languages for which I have recently seen translators provided in our court are Romanian, Turkish, Bengali, Serbo-croat, Lingala, Somali. I presume that the same situation applies in hospitals, surgeries, clinics, local housing departments and so on. It must be costing us a fortune. Now I don't expect everyone who is visiting London, or who has just come to live in London to speak English fluently if at all. What I do get fed up about is the large number of people who have lived here for years, and who may have become British citizens, who have not learnt to speak it. At long last the government is making noises about how much translation services are costing the nation. If there was a requirement for British residents to pass a basic English exam before being granted citizenship and the money used on some of the translation services was spent on intensive compulsory English language classes, I for one would be much happier.
Tonight we're having Bobotie for supper - and for anyone who doesn't know, Bobotie is a Cape Malay dish dating back to the 18th century, and it is practically the national dish of South Africa. You will be served it all over the country in homes and restaurants. I made this yesterday as I am going off to meetings this afternoon and then on to my Bookclub in the evening, so I needed something easy that I could leave for the rest of the family to eat. I know that there must be a zillion recipes for Bobotie in the blogosphere, but this one is excellent, I've made it for umpteen years. BTW Bobotie is pronounced "Boh-boor-tea"
Pre-heat oven to 180° C Serves 6-8
1 Kg minced beef or lamb
2 medium onions, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon curry powder
10ml spoon Tumeric
25ml smooth Apricot Jam
3 thickish slices crustless white bread
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
3 Bay leaves (my recipe called for Lime leaves but I don't have them)
Salt + Black Pepper
Flaked almonds (optional)
For the Topping: 2 eggs + 180ml milk
Sauté onions in the oil and butter, add the chopped garlic and grated ginger and cook for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Stir in the curry powder and turmeric, add the minced meat and brown it, breaking it up with a fork.
Soak the bread in cold water. Beat the eggs with the milk and add the lemon juice and rind. Squeeze all the water from the bread and crumble it into the milk and egg mixture. Once the meat is well browned add the bread and milk mixture together with the apricot jam. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. If you find the curry flavour too mild, stir in 5ml curry paste.
Spoon into a well buttered oven dish and push the bay leaves into the bobotie. Bake at 180°C for 30 mins.
For the topping, beat 2 eggs with 180ml milk and pour over the top of the Bobotie. Bake for a further 30 mins.
Serve with yellow rice, chutney and tomato and onion sambal.