The Last Summer Of Reason – Tahar Djaout
This elegantly haunting work of fiction features bookstore owner Boualem Yekker, who lives in a country overtaken by a radically conservative party known as the Vigilant Brothers, a group that seeks to control every aspect of life according to the precepts of their rigid moral theology. The belief that no work of beauty created by humans should rival the wonders of their god is slowly consuming society, and the art once treasured is now despised. Boualem resists the new regime with quiet determination, using the shop and his personal history as weapons against puritanical forces. Readers are taken into the lush depths of the bookseller's dreams, the memories of his now empty family life, and his passion for literature, then yanked back into the terror and drudgery of his daily routine by the vandalism, assaults, and death warrants that afflict him.
Review: This review is for the English translation of an Algerian book.
If I was one of those heathens who highlights in books, I would have highlighted every word in this one. The writing is stunning. I wish I had read this book sooner instead of letting it linger on my shelf for months.
I first heard of author Tahar Djaout several years ago, but The Last Summer of Reason is the only book of his I’ve read. Djaout lived in Algeria and was an outspoken critic of Islamic fundamentalism. In 1993, he was murdered by an Islamic group because he “wielded a fearsome pen that could have an effect on Islamic sectors.” The unfinished manuscript of The Last Summer of Reason was found in his home after his death.
This tiny dystopian novel (145 pages) reminds me of a philosophy book. There isn’t a lot of action. The author mainly uses the character as vehicle to examine complex ideas about religious extremism and creativity.
"Some men, citing divine will and legitimacy, decided to shape the world in the image of their dream and their madness . . ." The Last Summer of Reason
In an unnamed country, a bookstore owner, Boualem Yekker, is trying to survive. His country has been taken over by a group called the Vigilant Brothers, who seek to control every second of people’s lives. They even have laws about which foot a person has to put into bed first. There are no weather reports on the news because only God can predict the weather. Boualem’s family and friends have already deserted him to support the Vigilant Brothers. He knows it’s only a matter of time before he loses his bookshop and possibly his life. As the Vigilant Brothers tighten their stranglehold over the country, Boualem retreats into his memories to stay sane.
This book is basically a love letter to art, especially books. It proposes that society needs artists because artists are the ones who ask the hard questions. Art forces us to look inside ourselves and question why we believe what we do. Religious fundamentalism does the opposite. That’s why fundamentalists burn books and destroy art. Fundamentalists don’t like creativity. They believe there is only one correct way to live, and they are intolerant of anyone who lives differently. People like Boualem are not welcome in their world because they ask questions.
"Books have been the compost in which Boualem's life ripened, to the point where his bookish hands and his carnal hands, his paper body and his body of flesh and blood very often overlap and mingle." – The Last Summer of Reason
As the book goes on, the Vigilant Brothers become so powerful that they take everything away from Boualem. The only things they can’t touch are his memories.
The chilling part of this book is that it’s a dystopia, but it also isn’t. The author lived through the beginning of this dystopia. He died to prevent the events in this book from happening. Sometimes, the book feels more like a memoir than a novel.
The Last Summer of Reason is very real. It’s also hard to review because it’s unfinished. The author didn’t mean for readers to see it like this. But, it’s worth reading if you’re curious about Islamic extremism and the people who fight against extremist rule.
“The arrogant elimination of the Djaouts of our world must nerve us to pursue our own combative doctrine, namely: that peaceful cohabitation on this planet demands that while the upholders of any creed are free to adopt their own existential absolutes, the right of others to do the same is thereby rendered implicit and sacrosanct. Thus the creed of inquiry, of knowledge and exchange of ideas, must be upheld as an absolute, as ancient and eternal as any other.” – The Last Summer of Reason (Introduction)