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 is a very quiet statement that life during a revolution is a very turbulent thing. El Rashidi’s story takes place in 1984, 1998, and 2014–and illustrates three different regimes in Egypt–all three just as unpredictable as the one before it.
Several of the reviews I read call this book slow, but I think that is really the point. There is so much tension here. If the author were to call out in a loud voice, it would not be as effective. You can almost feel the eggshells crunching under your feet as you read this. Be careful where you step.
It should also be noted that there are three very distinct voices giving the narration. The narrator is the same person but she grows by a decade each time–and the grammar changes with her.
It’s not my favorite story as far as content, but the writing style is incredible. So much careful thought went into how to approach the story of Egypt’s revolution. I don’t relate to it, but I didn’t expect to. I still think it’s something extremely valuable. Put this on your list. It needs to be read.
Blogging for Books and Tim Duggan Books provided this copy for an unbiased review.