Yasmine El Rashidi’s first novel, Chronicle of a Last Summer, tells a story of power, loss, and survival in Egypt during times of deep political unrest. The main character, an unnamed narrator, speaks to the reader from three different summers of her life: 1984, 1998, and 2014.
Chronicle of a Last Summer begins when the narrator is a young girl. The reader can sense this not only because of her more naïve thought processes, but also because of her short, terse sentences, and overall ignorance of larger issues going on around her. There is mention of divisiveness among Egypt and Israel, as well as a pervasive feeling that the government is not the most positive entity. However, these ideas never quite become fully teased out. We know that her activist father, Baba, has recently disappeared, and the narrator is left with her depressed and dejected mother who spends the majority of her time on the phone or in front of the television.
We come back into the narrator’s life while she is a film major at a local university. In 1998 the narrator begins to explore ideas around what it is to be human, what happiness means, and the activism rampant in Egypt at the time. There is significant maturity that happens over the first fourteen-year gap in the narrator’s life. Her thoughts become more fully developed, and Rashidi’s sentences go from being short, poetic bursts of thought to longer, more lyrical strands of philosophical musing.
During the narrator’s last summer, unexpected events pull the reader into a whirlwind of action previously missing from the novel. Though still a very intellectual and philosophical section, the last portion of Chronicle of a Last Summer is where we see the bulk of action take place. This section is also filled with the greatest sense of hopelessness and despair. Though these feelings pervade the story in the earlier sections, they are offset by the narrator’s youthful and, at least somewhat more, optimistic outlook which becomes diluted with time and experience.
Activism and politics play a large role in Chronicle of a Last Summer: particularly the idea of observation rather than direct participation in relation to activism. The narrator brings up this idea multiple times, questioning whether mere observation should be equated with complicity. Hand in hand with the political upheaval that sets the background of Rashidi’s novel comes the censorship, discrimination, and criminalization of activists standing for a just cause. Throughout all of the hardship though, comes the pervasive sense of place that ties the narrator, her family, and the activists of Egypt to their homeland.
Chronicle of a Last Summer is a beautiful and interrogative book that delves into the deeper subjects surrounding politics, activism, and a person’s roles and duties in society. A masterfully composed and artfully vetted novel, Chronicle of a Last Summer is one of the most relevant books of our time, not only for Egypt, but for every person wrapped up in their own country’s politics.
Published by Tim Duggan Books in June of 2016, Chronicle of a Last Summer is available for purchase at your local bookstore.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.