Chronicle of a Last Summer, by Yasmine El Rashidi.
Chronicle of a Last Summer, by Yasmine El Rashidi. Tim Duggan Books (2016), 192 pages. FORTHCOMING
A lovely, haunting novel about a girl growing into womanhood as Egypt experiences chaos and violence.
Yasmine El Rashidi is an Egyptian journalist who chronicled the Arab Spring uprising in Cairo in 2011 for the New York Review of Books. Her firsthand reports were later published in book form as The Battle for Egypt: Dispatches from the Revolution. She continues to live in Cairo and write about Middle Eastern Affairs for several prestigious journals. In addition, she is an editor of the Middle East arts and culture quarterly Bidoun. Chronicle of a Last Summer, her first novel, captures the fictional life of a family on the edges of the country’s revolution.
The novel is structured in three sections, each depicting a girl moving from childhood to womanhood. The first is 1984, when she was a young school girl and when Mubarak became president. Her father mysteriously leaves her alone with her barely functional mother and relatives who produce partial answers to the questions she knows she cannot ask. The next section is 1998 when she is in college, studying film and debating political involvement with a rebellious cousin. The final section is 2013 after Mubarak’s fall from power and shows how life has changed and not changed.
El Rashidi is an excellent writer, capable of using short precise sentences which reflect the changing age of the narrator. Throughout she creates a sense of more going on than the narrator knows or tells. The awareness of danger nearby mixes with sadness and nostalgia. Although the details which fill the book are of Cairo in a time of change, El Rashidi uses them to make a larger point about how the turbulent times we all experience threaten us directly or indirectly.
I loved this book and strongly recommend it to readers who appreciate a book that is understated and moving.
Thanks to Library Thing for a review copy of this book.