Cairo, 1984. A blisteringly hot summer. A young girl in a sprawling family house. Her days pass quietly: listening to a mother’s phone conversations, looking at the Nile from a bedroom window, watching the three state-sanctioned TV stations with the volume off, daydreaming about other lives. Underlying this claustrophobic routine is mystery and loss. Relatives mutter darkly about the newly-appointed President Mubarak. Everyone talks with melancholy about the past. People disappear overnight. Her own father has left, too—why, or to where, no one will say.
We meet her across three decades, from youth to adulthood: As a six-year old absorbing the world around her, filled with questions she can’t ask; as a college student and aspiring filmmaker pre-occupied with love, language, and the repression that surrounds her; and then later, in the turbulent aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow, as a writer exploring her own past. Reunited with her father, she wonders about the silences that have marked and shaped her life.
At once a mapping of a city in transformation and a story about the shifting realities and fates of a single Egyptian family, Yasmine El Rashidi’s Chronicle of a Last Summer traces the fine line between survival and complicity, exploring the conscience of a generation raised in silence.
Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi
Publication Date: June 13, 2017 by Tim Duggan Books
For such a small book, Chronicle of a Last Summer is a slow, difficult read. I felt like this pace was mostly due to El Rashidi’s prose because although the content itself is heavy, the author’s writing style forces the reader to slow down. As someone who reads very quickly, this is not a book I could see reading during a commute or while in public since it demands your full attention.
That is not to say that El Rashidi’s novel is difficult to grasp, unless the reader does not have much knowledge on Egypt’s political history. I was grateful for my own culture/history coursework and personal interest in international affairs since it helped to clarify some of the topics that the author discusses in an intimate way that doesn’t lend to much clarification.
The book is broken into three different sections: 1984, 1998, and 2014. I struggled the most with the first section (1984) since the narrative flow felt very fragmented as it was told from the POV of the narrator at a very young age. I’ve never done well with novels told from a young perspective and Chronicle of a Last Summer was no exception. I was glad I powered through though since I felt most connected to the narrator during the section on 1998. I also found this portion to be the most powerful since it is during a time where our young narrator is beginning to find a voice and a purpose during such a turbulent time in her city.
While I enjoyed the book as a whole, I still didn’t feel entirely connected to the story. I think ultimately that El Rashidi’s prose, while beautiful, was not a good fit for me. I prefer coming-of-age stories to feel a bit more personal and I found something lacking in my connection with the narrator.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.