A young Egyptian woman recounts her personal and political coming of age in this debut novel by Yasmine El Rashidi.
The reader meets the unnamed main character across three decades in Egypt: as a very young school girl, a college film student and then as a writer in modern day Egypt following Mubarak’s overthrow. Her father’s physical absence and her mother’s emotional absence dominate the writer’s life. As friends as relatives disappear through death, imprisonment, fleeing to America or just vanishing without a trace, she contemplates how absence and silence have defined her life.
Chronicle of a Last Summer is a gentle but heavy book. El Rashidi doesn’t heavily detail the violence, oppression or suffering the main character experiences throughout her life but the reader can feel it. The character’s cousin frequently chastises the young lady and his fellow citizens for not getting angry. Her uncle begs her to use her resources at the university and make a film that will make some noise, to serve as a rally cry for the Egyptian people but instead, she embraces the silence she’s always known and buries herself in her writing instead.
I’ve seen several reviews where the author is criticized for the unnamed character’s lack of emotion but I disagree. It’s my opinion El Rashidi’s unnamed character serves as the consciousness of her generation. Her apparent lack of emotion in all actuality screams to the reader the Egyptian people have no voice. They endure and wait for change they don’t actually believe is coming. They merely exist.
Chronicle of a Last Summer is short on emotion but Yasmine El Rashidi’s writing is deep. She skillfully expresses the heat and oppression of Egypt in the simplest descriptions of a character’s childhood home. Don’t let its simplicity fool you. It’s quiet, intricate work. I look forward to reading more of El Rashidi in the future.
I received a copy of Chronicle of a Last Summer in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.