Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Chronicle of a Last Summer

In Chronicle of a Last Summer, her debut novel, Yasmine El Rashidi explores three volatile periods of Egyptian history through the eyes of a single narrator who lived with her mother in the same Cairo apartment between 1984 and 2014.   The novel is divided into distinct sections recalling the young woman’s recollections of the events of the summers of 1984, 1998, and 2014.  Unfortunately, for both the narrator and for the country of Egypt, the more things changed, the more they remained the same.

In 1984, our narrator is still a little girl basking in the attention of her family and those in the neighborhood impressed by the stature of the lifestyle her businessman father is able to provide his family.  She is a confident child, one who feels secure about her place in Egyptian society, but she is smart enough to know that she does not understand everything about the world she lives in – and that the best way to learn the truth about that world is to listen quietly to the adult conversations surrounding her.  Why, for instance, does her father remain in Geneva on business for so long, and more importantly, why does the rest of the family talk about him as if he may never return to his Cairo apartment?

By 1998, the little girl is a university film student well aware that one of the truths of Egyptian society is that some of its citizens suddenly disappear, with only the luckiest of them ever to be seen again.  But even those lucky ones come home physically and mentally scarred by the experience, mere shadows of the people they were when they went missing.  In the meantime, her own father remains “in Geneva” on business, and the narrator has to be careful that the actions of her radical cousin and uncle do not convince the government that it is time she take a “business trip” of her own.

Yasmine El Rashidi
And then it is 2014, and the narrator’s Baba (father) is back.  He will never return to the family home (a place more and more in danger of collapsing from neglect), but his return to public life gives the narrator the chance to spend time with the man she only knows through family stories and a few vague, early childhood memories of her own.  Soon enough, another “revolution” behind them, the people of Egypt are faced with the reality that only the names of those in charge change, and that life for the rest of them is something to be endured until the Egyptian political cycle completes itself again.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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