I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi
Release date: June 28th, 2016
Publisher: Crown Publishing
A young Egyptian woman chronicles her personal and political coming of age in this debut novel.
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.
Stunning. Insightful. Mesmerizing. I requested this book because lately I have been reading and watching a lot about the 2011 Egyptian revolution, a topic discussed in this book. I though it would be a interesting companion piece to all of the documentaries and news articles, but it ended up being much more.
Chronicle of a Last Summer read like a memoir as it followed the coming of age of a young Egyptian girl. It’s told from her point of view and it was what I enjoyed the most about this book. The main character is so curious at the start. She doesn’t fully understand what is going on around her or how dangerous questioning the politics of the country is. In a way, for someone who has only a basic understanding of pre-revolution politics in Egypt, I felt like I too was learning and discovering what life was like under President Mubarak’s regime. Besides politics, it also examines the role British rule had on Egypt and the divide between the Christian and Muslim population.
The book is a slow burner. The first part takes time to get into. Not everything is clear: who is who, so many new names…but in time everything clicks together. If anything, the voice of the narrator is what keeps you interested. I really like her honesty and how, even after years of suppression, loss and silence, she still manages to be hopeful, introspective and forgiving.
This book definitely stood out to me. Not only did I learn something new, but it made me question my own views and beliefs. While was outside my usual reading comfort zone, I am very grateful that I was given a chance to discover this gem of novel.