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The Last Summer of Reason [Paperback]

Tahar Djaout , Wole Soyinka , Marjolijn de Jager
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 2003

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 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.

Praise for the hardcover edition:

"One is reminded of how life-affirming and dangerous literature still can be." -- Minneapolis Star Tribune

"I hope . . . readers find Djaout's little book, even if it is filled with more questions than answers." -- USA Today

"An elegiac ode to literature and a furious protest against intolerance -- The New York Times Book Review

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

A bookseller battles the bizarre restrictions of a totalitarian regime in this final novel by Djaout, an Algerian novelist, poet and journalist who wrote the book just before being assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists in 1993. Bousalem Yekker is the haunted, introverted protagonist, a 50-ish woodworker who also runs a bookstore in a culture being stripped of artistic expression by a conservative group known as the Vigilant Brothers, who believe that such expression should be subjugated to the worship of God. Djaout provides precious little elaboration on how the group took over, and even less on why the youthful supporters of the movement would buy into the drab, colorless world the party's vision endorses. Most of the book consists of chapters in which Yekker finds himself increasingly boxed in by government repression. Once he realizes he is basically powerless to fight their efforts, he begins to look back on the more romantic aspects of his own past with an odd mixture of bitterness and nostalgia. Djaout's writing displays an excellent flair for poetic description, but the threadbare plot doesn't provide much to differentiate this novel from other titles in which heroic protagonists battle repressive regimes. The concept of a culture in which art, beauty and expression are totally repressed is an interesting notion that allows this book to work to some extent as a cultural parable, but the underdevelopment of the plot prevents Djaout from getting beneath the surface of the compelling issues he tries to examine. (Oct.)Forecast: While this book will be easy to promote Djaout's tragic history should prompt review coverage it may be more difficult to sell, though a striking jacket photo of a book in flames and a foreword by Wole Soyinka should help distinguish it from similar efforts.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Boualem Yekker is a bookseller who refuses to abandon his liberal political beliefs despite pressure from the totalitarian government. His wife and children abandon him and accept the political and religious rhetoric of the nation's new leaders. Yekker is left to his memories of the way of life he has lost and of the last summer of reason, the last season in which people tried to fight the oppression of the emerging government. Yekker is a truly literary hero, openly disagreeing with the treatment of women and intellectuals in his country and never abandoning his belief in the power of books to restore sanity to a nation driven mad with self-righteousness. His creator Djaout's own defiance was silenced when Islamic extremists in his country, Algeria, assassinated him in 1993. "His opinion of life was too high for him to make do with its shadow," Djaout writes of his protagonist. That is a fitting epitaph for a brave author who believed in the power of words to conquer the hate that grows out of fear. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unfinished Masterpiece Dec 29 2002
It is obvious that this book was still in manuscript form when it was discovered. My belief is that the author would have edited out certain passages, tightened up some of the prose, and fleshed out what is now only lightly sketched. Still, as a reader, I felt extraordinarily privileged in being able to read what was here. The novel is chilling and achingly beautiful. There are turns of phrase that are breath-taking, and there are descriptions of totalitarianism that caused my chest to constrict in dread. Reading this book is like reading novels written in the wake of fascism or Stalinism--the idea that all is controlled, no one is to be trusted, the only safety is within one's own head. But it is the meditations on books--on what books mean and how they mean--that is the true gem in this book. And the comparison of how one Book (be it Bible, Koran, or Little Red Book) can be given such power that it must eliminate all competition that comes from other books. And his thoughts on gender and what totalitarianism does to sexual relationships is deeply moving. There are so many things in this book to talk about. I grieve that its author is not around to participate in those discussions.
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It is profoundly affecting to read a book which is not in its final form because its author was assassinated. Doubly moving for the reader is this book's warning cry against mindless practitioners of fundamentalist oppression, the very people responsible for the author's death in Algeria. Djaout clearly knew he was in danger, knew why he was in danger, and knew why he, along with other writers and artists, represented a threat to single-minded fanatics in his country, yet he continued to create, leaving behind this final book, a legacy not just to compatriots who might feel like lonely soldiers against intolerance but to lovers of books throughout the world who sometimes take for granted the power and glory of a free press.
Almost plotless, the book reveals the thoughts and feelings of Boualem Yekker, a lonely man who finds himself living "a blank life" in a society which has been subsumed by the Regulators of Faith, zealots who worship a god of vengeance and punishment and do not recognize love, forgiveness, or compassion. Several far more compelling, but unwritten, stories parallel this plot, however. First is the powerful story which the reader cannot help but conjure of the author's own travails as a writer trying to find an outlet for his creativity within a similar society, and his eventual assassination. Equally compelling is the interior story the reader cannot help but create, and which I believe the author expected his reader to create, of what his own life would be like under similar circumstances.
Poetic and thoughtful, Djaout makes the world of a fanatical theocracy come alive, a world which many readers, like myself, could read about but not even begin to understand in the days after September 11.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Viewpoints of the Author Through a Character Dec 28 2001
The Last Summer of Reason
Algeria is a country that was almost besieged by fundamentalism, and the fundamentalist leaders had targeted anything that they personally perceived as being a threat to their own brand of religion. Thar Djaout wrote this small novel as a reflection of his own experiences in that country, which he was assassinated for his writings and viewpoints.
The book outlines the terror that besieged Algeria in the past, and outlines the horror that the leaders of the fundamentalist leaders had done to that country during the civil war. It involves a character named Boualem Yekker who refuses to give up his views for the sake of protecting himself from harm. As you read this book, you will see that soon it becomes clear that one extremist becomes much like the other, until they all become one face and the character of the very people that surround Tahar Djaout become one faceless mass. This book is more about Tahar Djaout and his experiences in this horror, than about Boualem Yekker, the character he uses to convey the story.
For Tahar Djaout , as for the character outlined in this novel we would hope for a happy ending. US troops bomb the extremists and help reestablish a more reasonable regime. Something like what we would read in today's headlines. Possibly Tahar Djaout would go into exile, and write more poetry, and his words ring out as a voice of reason against a growing tide of hatred in his country. Perhaps it would all go back to the way it was. But it was never to be again. The last sentence Tahar Djaout wrote before he was assassinated by extremists in his country was "will there be another spring?"
Read this to find out what the world can lose without its poetry and poets.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable May 24 2002
In all of the discussions of this book, never once did I see mentioned The Plague by Albert Camus. The parallels extend way beyond the common Algerian background. If pushed, I would say that The Last Summer of Reason is more powerful because it is more specific. It provides something I don't think I've read or learned about in the last few years -- a fully imagined sense of the life lived in the midst of the creeping, quiet disaster of fundamentalism. Even though it is so short, and, so obviously unfinished, I am left breathless by this unforgettable literary witness.
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