Sunday, December 5, 2010

Book Review: 'The Last Summer of Reason' by Tahar Djaout

Tahar Djaout (1954-1993 )
The Last Summer of Reason (1999)

145 pages

A short, dark novel of a country (unnamed, but understood to be Algeria) that has slipped into the grip of fanaticism. The transcript was found among the papers of Tahar Djaout, an Algerian writer, after he was assassinated by an Islamic fundamentalist group.

The narrator of the story is a bookseller, Boualem Yekker, in the capital city of a country that has been taken over by a radical conservative party known as the Vigilant Brothers (VB). His wife, son and daughter have succumbed to the safety of the crowd, abandoning him for not joining them as the embrace the new order. No one even comes to his bookstore anymore, save for one like-minded friend --- his past customers now fearing the stigma of being seen as preferring man-made literature to the works of the VB's god.

Boualem lives in constant fear, that his bookstore will be shutdown --- it surprises him that it has not long ago been closed --- and that he will be jailed by the VB or even killed on the street. He tries to use his books as a kind of shield against the insanity that he finds has risen up around him. But, as he drifts between his quiet apartment and unvisited bookstore, he alternates between nightmares born out of his fear that he stands essentially alone among a population that hates him, even the children throwing stones at him when he steps for a moment out of his shop, and happier memories of the time before the VB took control of the country, remembering vacations with his family and the natural inquisitiveness of his young children.

When finally his bookstore is shutdown, and he is forced to confront that his books can no longer help him, and in fact that they never could, he settles on a bench looking down over the capital city to its port, and wonders "Will there be another spring?"

Read quotes from this book

Other reviews / information:
Dana De Zoysa

Djaout wrote in one of his poems the well-known lines:
Silence is death
And you, if you speak, you die
If you remain silent, you die
So speak out and die

Have you read this book, others by this author, or even similar ones by other authors? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.
Other of my book reviews: FICTION Bookshelf and NON-FICTION Bookshelf

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