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The Last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout

The Last Summer of Reason (1999)

by Tahar Djaout

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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    Too Loud A Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal (labfs39)
    labfs39: Both are books about books and the people that risk their lives to save them and the ideas they represent.

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English (11)  Dutch (1)  All languages (12)
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Can a man exist with a heart capable of committing the horrors thus told?

This brief, terrifying tale of dystopia was found in he author's papers after fundamentalists killed him outside his home in in Algeria in 1992. This is an interminable nightmare, but one with blessing. Such terrors are sanctioned from on high and that is the element which scares me. People are often so certain about religion. Doubt is removed. Butchering everyone else can be viewed to assist and assert expansion of said purity. Oh dear.

I have wanted to read the Oxford World's Classics edition of the Bible for about six months now. I like the idea of parsing and plumbing that nebulous pool of story and symbol. What I recoil against is what everyone here (locally, in Southern Indiana) will then say to me. No, I most likely won't be shot dead in the street. No, people will likely engage, intrude and blather on about their "relationship with God." I really don't need that.
( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Bookstore owner, Boualem Yekker lives in a country taken over by a radical religious group, the Vigilant Brothers. At first he is left alone with his books and his memories but eventually the group’s followers come after him for even daring to have books. Stepping back from what is in the novel and concentrating more on how it came to be, it is valuable to note that its author, Tahar Djaout was persecuted and finally assassinated by those in his own country who had begun to target intellectuals. I can only imagine that Djaout himself was often left alone with his words, and it’s those words we read on the page of this book—and that I imagine to be written in the books Boualem Yekker sells.

The novel is lyrical, sometimes disjointed, and is less a cohesive story than a selection of prose and prose poems that are bound together by a common thread. The leaping back and forth from memory to sermon to dreams to actions in the present day accents the terror and confusion those living in that world—both the fictional Yekker and his author Djaout—must feel. The confusion of its presentation further blurs the lines between reader and writer, immerses us all in Yekker’s lonely and frightening world.

There is a beautiful section—The Binding Text—where Djaout writes about the beauty of language, of words, of the way even letters appear and flow across a page. He goes on to talk about learning to write, how “the child is crushed beneath the board” and “terrorized by the teacher” (69) as they constrain his natural impulses and make him conform. The child—Yekker, Djaout, all of us—wants to be free, but what stands between the child and that freedom is “all of society, blinded and fanaticized by the Text, a society tethered to a Word that pulverizes it” (72).

“Of what use are books when the Book exists to sate every curiosity and slake every thirst?” (4) an early chapter, The Sermon, asks. To Yekker, and to many of us, books are of every use. When his bookstore is closed, its property and wares confiscated by the government, Yekker is adrift. According to him, it was through books that “ideas germinated in him, that ideals took root” (119) and without them he feels as if he is surrounded by a wall, unable to look forward or back. The Vigilant Brothers seem to know this, and this is why they seek to control the books (and the words) and take the children in their childhood, before they can be infected by ideals that are not the Vigilant Brothers’ own.

Yekker’s distancing from this new, religious society of the Vigilant Brothers is gradual, almost lulling the reader into a false sense of security. He is lonely, yes, excrutiatingly so, having lost his family to these new attitudes, his books to those who believe they are a threat, and even his memories as they “go into a panic…faces, places, and objects go adrift…elements cancel each other out or merge” (11). He is taunted by children, lectured by youths full of passionate belief in their God’s Word, his shop is vandalized, he is attacked, but still he survives. His elation after receiving a clear death threat is curious but understandable, it’s the joy of a man who knows he has no part in his community and who no longer feels the desire to have one.

Boualem Yekker survives the last Summer of reason and wonders if there will be another Spring. Tahar Djaout did not; he was assassinated in 1993, one of many Algerian intellectuals to be killed that year. It is incredibly difficult to separate the life of Djaout from that of the fictional Yekker, especially when Yekker speaks of the power of words in the way a writer would: “They understand the danger in words, all the words they cannot manage to domesticate and anesthetize. For words, put end to end, bring doubt and change.” (143-4) Domesticated words are those that do their work for their proper masters. Like tamed animals, they function only to aid, never to harm, but the knowledge they could do harm is always there. It is the goal of the Vigilant Brothers, and of many fundamentalist religions to tame the writers of those words and if they cannot to destroy them entirely so their Word will not be cast into doubt. ( )
  tldegray | Sep 21, 2018 |
(review originally written for Bookslut)

Tahar Djaout was assassinated for writing books like The Last Summer of Reason. His words are disconcerting, discomforting, and it's not only the fundamentalist Islamic groups (who have been attributed the responsibility for his death) who should be uneasy, it should be all of us. This book is an elegant argument against the complacency of political correctness that excuses brutal repression in the name of cultural differences. As recent events have all too clearly illustrated, hate allowed to fester anywhere will eventually spill out of those boundaries we thought had contained it.

It's all too easy to let any discussion of this book spill over into politics, because this book is more than a novel. Hopefully someday people will be able to read this book purely for its simple poetic prose, appreciate it just for its finely crafted story. Right now, I find it hard to read it in any other way than as a window into the political climate of our times.

As such The Last Summer of Reason is brilliant and chilling. As I was reading it I kept trying to compare it to dystopian novels like 1984 and Brave New World in my head, but the comparisons didn't quite fit because this is not quite a dystopian novel. Instead of immersing the reader in a futuristic world in which personal freedoms are a thing of the past, it starts fairly innocuously, in a country run by religious fundamentalists, but in which one can still buy and sell controversial books, people could still resist.

What is fascinating about this book is the slow progression of intolerance. What is terrifying about this book is how rarely it is the authorities who enforce the new codes of behavior, but fellow citizens. In the beginning, it is the children, easily molded, who shame their parents into belief. Once the children have converted their parents, they start in on the neighborhood. Suddenly they are the authorities, and they throw rocks and break windows in order to punish those not living up to the image of the perfectly devout. Finally the adults join in, monitoring the behavior of their families, their neighbors, complete strangers.

It is a horrifying thing to watch, a horrifying thing to imagine happening to you, to people you love. It is terrifying to think that this base intolerance must lie in the hearts of all of us, sleeping, waiting for the right time to come out. Somewhere deep inside, are we all the gestapo? Do we all long to enforce our own moral codes onto others? Given someone else's moral codes, would we all just as happily press those onto everyone we know? How long would you resist, if your freedoms were being taken away millimeter by millimeter? How hard would you struggle, if they were not your freedoms being taken away, but your neighbor's? your enemy's?

The Last Summer of Reason is a great book not because it answers such big questions, but because it provokes them. This is a book of our times, and it is later than you think. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
For me, The Last Summer of Reason seemed almost like the perfect reading assignment from a pretentious university literary course. While I could barely make it through the introduction (which admittedly was written by another author), I could tell that there would be symbolism and allegory dripping throughout. And there was - because that was the point.

Knowing a little about Djaout helped me finish the book - he was killed for his beliefs - beliefs similar to those outlined in this book. Which was in itself an allegory outlining a community run by religious zealots where books, art and beauty are outlawed in any form. Women are oppressed, and all work and thought is directed toward the good of god and the community. Residents are either easily steered or roughly forced into conformity until the independence they once experienced is a distant or unknown memory. One would be tempted to throw out the uber popular "dystopia" in describing the world Djaout created, but his landscape was scarier than any dystopia because it had too many components of regimes which currently or recently existed.

So I can appreciate it...but I couldn't enjoy it.

The work was found as a work in progress in the belongings of Djaout after he was killed - which means he either hadn't finished it or was concerned about getting it published. I would suggest the former. Narratives became circular and beautifully crafted images became tarnished by extraneous descriptions and events. It's only 145 pages long, but it took me two weeks to finish it simply because of the depth of the writing and the discomfort of the images created.

If I were a better person, I could rise above the confusion of the text and review it for its "message", but for me, the message is only as strong as the vessel in which it is delivered. Perhaps had Djaout's voice not been cut short, this could have embodied the greatness he was striving for, but as it stands, it's a powerful message delivered with a mumbled voice ( )
2 vote pbadeer | Jul 24, 2011 |
This slender book recounts the loss of a man's family and country to the zeal of government thugs and Fundamentalists .Boualem is the owner of a small bookstore in Algeria. It has become dangerous for anyone to visit his store or even to be seen to be patronizing it. He has one customer who ventures into it and the two of them are afraid to even speak of the world that their country has become.
This is a harrowing tale that mourns the loss and suffocation of everything of beauty. A very moving story with exquisite language. I don't have a "don't miss" tag but if I did this would be on it. ( )
  augustau | Apr 26, 2011 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tahar Djaoutprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jager, Marjolijn DeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kooy, Henne van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soyinka, WoleForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toumi, Alek BayleeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Omniscient Eye can light up at any moment to take your confusions and your little schemes by surprise or to tear you away from your shameful conspiracies.
Boualem suddenly thinks of those distant relatives he would occasionally see in the country and who didn't have a single book in their home. Every time he visited, he used to wonder how those people could live, without the smell of paper, without turning pages in which metaphors, ideas, and adventures were rustling. Perhaps now, in the time remaining to him, he himself will be living the life of those people, knowing horizons such as theirs. [p. 118]
He has met so many characters in books, he has come into contact with so many unforgettable destinies that his own life would be nothing without them. It was a little through contact with life and a great deal through contact with books that ideas germinated in him, that ideals took root, that voluptuous feelings and waves of pleasure or anger ran through his trembling body, leaving lasting traces behind. It has happened to him, as to any persevering reader, that he could speak informally with the most prestigious characters, penetrate their intimacy, read their emotions and their thoughts as if through a glass door. [p. 119]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803215916, Paperback)

This elegant, haunting novel takes us deep into the world of bookstore owner Boualem Yekker. He lives in a country being overtaken by the Vigilant Brothers, a radically conservative party that seeks to control every element of life according to the laws of their stringent moral theology: no work of beauty created by human hands should rival the wonders of their god. Once-treasured art and literature are now despised.
Silently holding his ground, Boualem withstands the new regime, 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, 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.
From renowned Algerian author Tahar Djaout we inherit a brutal and startling story that reveals how far an ordinary human being will go to maintain hope.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:49 -0400)

A chilling novel about a free-thinking bookseller who sacrifices everything to resist a fundamentalist regime. The Last Summer of Reason, found among assassinated Algerian writer Tahar Djaout's papers after his death, tells the elegant, haunting story of a bookseller's fight against against radical fundamentalism. This brief, intense novel is a powerful and timely indictment of terror and closed-mindedness throughout the world, and a fitting final statement from this acclaimed writer and tireless fighter for democracy.… (more)

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