The Last Summer of Reason

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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 ...
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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.
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Editorial Reviews

New York Times

The Last Summer of Reason has acquired a new and haunting immediacy since the attacks of September 11. . . . Deftly translated from the French by Marjolijn de Jager, and with a foreword by Wole Soyinka, the novel provides an anguished dispatch from what nearly became Algeria’s future. . . . An elegiac ode to literature and a furious protest against intolerance.”—Adam Shatz, New York Times

— Adam Shatz

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“One is reminded of how life-affirming and dangerous literature still can be.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Public Discourse

"The Last Summer of Reason provides a powerful and strangely beautiful reminder of the danger of letting violent ideological fundamentalism fester. We would do well to heed this reminder now, not later."—Jennifer Bryson, Public Discourse

— Jennifer Bryson

New York Times - Adam Shatz

The Last Summer of Reason has acquired a new and haunting immediacy since the attacks of September 11. . . . Deftly translated from the French by Marjolijn de Jager, and with a foreword by Wole Soyinka, the novel provides an anguished dispatch from what nearly became Algeria’s future. . . . An elegiac ode to literature and a furious protest against intolerance.”—Adam Shatz, New York Times
Public Discourse - Jennifer Bryson

"The Last Summer of Reason provides a powerful and strangely beautiful reminder of the danger of letting violent ideological fundamentalism fester. We would do well to heed this reminder now, not later."—Jennifer Bryson, Public Discourse
Wole Soyinka
"This posthumous allegory bequeathed to the world by Tahar Djaout is a literary gem that gleams from beyond the grave. It is also, surely, a humanistic testament, beamed at the complacent conscience of the world."
winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
Russell Banks
"A beautiful fable of our time--written in defense of the individual imagination--this novel has become more prophetic than even its author feared."
award-winning author and President of the International Parliament of Writers
Abderrahim Sabir
"Djaout's only weapons were his words. The artistry of this memorable book lies in the way he illustrates the "sheer thoughtlessness" of adopting a stringent, puritanical, moral theology."
Amnesty International
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman
The Last Summer of Reason should serve as a warning to all societies. This is a book of courage, passion, and quiet defiance."
Vice President of International PEN
From The Critics
In 1993 Djaout was murdered by Islamic fundamentalist assassins as he left his home in Bainem, Algeria. One of his attackers professed that the writer was killed because he "wielded a fearsome pen." Discovered in Djaout's papers was the manuscript for this novel, which bears witness to the Islamic fanaticism and intolerance sweeping his country. This brief, lyric work focuses on bookshop owner Boualem Yekker, whose life is ravaged by a group called the Vigilant Brothers. Yekker loses nearly everything, including his family, who have adopted fundamentalist behavior in order to avoid becoming pariahs. Amid the gloom and intolerance, Yekker's only consolation is in memories and dreams. Like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, this novel sounds a warning about what can happen when religious fundamentalism proliferates. However, it is far less fleshed out and insufficiently imagined. Internal and meditative, it reads more like a poetic treatise or essay. Nevertheless, this voice from the grave renders a conflict that is more timely than ever before.
—James Schiff

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 jacketphoto of a book in flames and a foreword by Wole Soyinka should help distinguish it from similar efforts. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Prize-winning novelist and poet Djaout was assassinated in 1993 by Islamic fundamentalists in his native Algeria, leaving this very short novel, a painful rumination on the death of the spirit in a repressive society, among his papers. Boualem has already suffered much under the new theocratic regime of his stricken homeland, something he knows only too well even as he drives along the sea hoping that a member of the ruling Vigilant Brothers won't pull him over for some impious infraction. A bookseller, he has had to allow the offerings in his store to be removed from public view, and he's seen his clientele dwindle to a determined but furtive single customer. A devoted family man, he also has had to accept the defection of his wife and grown children, who are more willing than he is to embrace the new national order and its offers of temporal and everlasting rewards. But in spite of these blows to his sense of identity, Boualem persists, believing that his passive defense of the material contained in his books is necessary to keep hope for change alive. Even when he is cursed and stoned by children in the neighborhood, he carries on, consoling himself with his reading and with remembrances of his own children in happier times. The arrival of a threatening letter, however, marks a tightening of the noose around him. Followed swiftly by even more threatening phone calls, Boualem receives the final blow when he goes to his store one day and finds that it and its contents have been confiscated. He can do nothing now but ponder his future-without consolation. Though these and other bleak reflections on fundamentalist society remain as legacy, the stilling of Djaout's humanist voice is aloss to the larger literary world as much as to his embattled homeland.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803215917
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 438,617
  • Product dimensions: 5.87 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Tahar Djaout (1954–93) was an Algerian novelist, poet, and journalist, and the author of twelve books, including Les vigiles, winner of the Prix Méditerranée. An outspoken critic of the extremism stirring his nation, he was assassinated by an Islamic fundamentalist group. The manuscript of this novel was found among his papers after his death.
Marjolijn de Jager teaches Dutch and French language and translation at New York University. Wole Soyinka is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the author of more than thirty books. Alek Baylee Toumi is an associate professor of French and Francophone studies at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and the author of the play Madah-Sartre, available in a Bison Books edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Vigilant Brothers

The road curves or runs straight depending on the line cut into the rock. Rumbling of the raging sea. The waves pounce on the parapets and then explode into foam, of which some ragged beads land on the road, which is completely clear. A few cars shoot past along the rectilinear stretches.

    From time to time, a monstrous green motorcycle with heavy cylinders catches up with a car, keeping pace with it. With requisite helmet and beard, a Vigilant Brother scrutinizes the suspicious vehicle. He inspects the interior. If by chance there is a couple inside, there is a strong possibility that the V.B. will ask the driver to move to the right and stop in the parking strip so that he can check the identity papers to verify the passengers' conjugal or family relationship. The scrutiny also does its utmost to detect a bottle of alcohol or any other forbidden product. These V.B.s act as if they are in a new kind of western in which they play at collecting as many scalps of heathens and offenders of the laws of God as possible.

    Road signs form a regular parade: No one is above the Faith. God exterminates usurers. Woe to a people who let things be run by a woman. He will annihilate our enemies. If you are sick, He alone can heal you.

    Heavy rain begins to fall. Boualem Yekker speeds up to escape from a disaster. One or two hours of rain like this will be enough to make the streets impassable; the city suffers from a thorny problem with its gutters that it seems not to want (or beable?) to resolve. Boualem is thinking of an anecdote he read in his English book more than thirty years ago but which he still remembers. On a stormy day someone is visiting an Irishman; the rain is pouring through the dilapidated roof. "Why don't you repair your roof?" the visitor asks. "In this weather?" the Irishman answers. "You must be mad!" The person pays him a second visit, in the summer this time, and remembering the decaying roof, he suggests that his host repair it. "What for?" the Irishman replies. "It's not raining."

    In situations that are growing more and more frequent, Boualem Yekker makes himself forget the present and calls upon memories and images. He lets himself be guided by words, veritable life preservers, which carefully bring him to familiar shores. He likes being glued to certain images that hold him as a willing prisoner far from a gruesome-faced present.

    Boualem clings ferociously to these images as if he feels the day will come when no evasion, not even through the imagination, will be allowed any longer. Yes, he often has the impression that the days of dreaming are numbered. Boualem takes great care to resuscitate as many distant and incomplete faces and landscapes as possible before it is too late and there is no way out of the chaos. He crisscrosses these images in every direction, torn between the desire to drink from them greedily and the desire to control them for fear of exhausting his reserve too quickly.

    These moments of reverie are refreshing mirages sweetening the world's inexorable drought. Life has ceased to be inflected in the present. Boualem is one of the people suffering from a new malady: an overdeveloped memory. Moreover, among this persecuted minority, memory very often goes into a panic for having been solicited and twisted: faces, places, and objects go adrift, fragments subjected to a disorderly game of emulsion or magnetization. Many elements cancel each other out, intersect or merge in a dizzying jumble. There comes a moment when, as you seek memory to take you out of the present, you encounter only a vague dream landscape in which the landmarks fall apart. A kind of night settles in where the shadows of memory grow restless. Sometimes they take on a sharper profile, as if they were passing in front of a light. In this whirlwind there are images of which the shock is unbearable; they shake you roughly, expel you from your dream, and, with your feet and hands tied, bring you back to merciless reality.

    The rain passes quickly, even if the sky holds on to a bilious color. The road is flooded and the water sprays in violent spurts from beneath the tires. Even on this ribbon of tarmac the rain has awakened earthy and organic rural smells. In reality, they are exuded by a strip of land running along the road. A V.B. passes at high speed, the wheels of his motorcycle hurling a screeching spray of water.

    Boualem Yekker associates the smells the rain brings with beauty. The beauty of people and things. Of sensations. The beauty of art, stretching us with overwhelming feelings, elevating us, and causing us to resonate. Fortunately, Boualem is neither elegant nor talented. This protects him from the V.B.s' attacks and violence. For, in the new era the country is living through, what is persecuted above all, and more than people's opinions, is their ability to create and propagate beauty. After the first public and dramatic trials brought against materialists, laypeople, and followers of all kinds of atheism, it did not take the inquisitors long to realize that the individuals they were judging were only a kind of offshoot, the effect and not the cause, and that the roots and the trunk of the evil lay elsewhere, able to go into greening again, burgeon once more to bring forth other unnatural fruits.

    As long as music can transport the spirit, painting can make the core bloom with a rapture of colors, and poetry can make the heart pound with rebellion and hope, they will have gained nothing. To affirm their victory, they knew what they had to do. They broke musical instruments, burned rolls of film, slashed the canvases of paintings, reduced sculptures to rubble, and they were permeated with the exalted feeling that they were thereby pursuing and completing the purifying and grandiose work of their ancestors battling anthropomorphism. No terrestrial face should compete with His Face, no work of beauty created by a human hand should come close to His Beauty, no passion whatsoever should rival His resplendent Love.

    As another V.B. passes by, Boualem suddenly feels small and vulnerable, almost pathetic. His secrets, his incongruity are exposed abruptly to the bright light of day. Bookseller. He does not create questions and beauty, but he does contribute to the dissemination of revolt and beauty. He, a modest woodcutter, does contribute to feeding the bonfire of ideas and improper dreams. He looks at himself in the rearview mirror to check his anguish. Yes, his decline is undeniable; it is quite visibly there: in his low and wrinkled forehead, in his inexpressive and fired eyes protected by horn-rimmed glasses. The face of a real clod. He cannot take the decoding of his disgrace any lower.

    In this world advocating rigorism and submission to a higher order, Boualem is almost ashamed of selling speculations, dreams, and fantasies in the form of essays, novels, or adventure stories. The keepers of the new order apply themselves to making any citizen endowed with more than the humility and permissible banality of the standard citizen feel guilty. Those who have knowledge, talent, elegance, or physical beauty are reviled for their "privileges" and urged to make honorable amends in order to be integrated into the herd of submissive and blessed believers.

    Confronted with the determination of the V.B.s, Boualem is comforted by one thing: the insignificance of his person, which his rearview mirror has just reconfirmed one more time. In this once so happy city, henceforth subject to the obliteration and ugliness asceticism requires, in this city transformed into a desert from which every oasis has disappeared, it is difficult for the keepers of the new order to see an enemy in Boualem Yekker. Is that not why they allow him to quietly continue his bookseller's activities?

Excerpted from The Last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout. Copyright © 2001 by Ruminator Books. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix
Sermon 1 3
The Vigilant Brothers 9
When will the quake happen? 17
The summer when time stopped 27
Pilgrim of the new times 35
The Good whose substance the Almighty established 47
The nocturnal tribunal 57
The binding text 67
A dream shaped like madness 73
The future is a closed door 79
The message suppressed 87
For that we will live, for that we will die 89
Therapists of the spirit 93
One should come from nowhere 99
The unknown arbiter 107
Born to have a body 117
Does death make noise as it moves? 129
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2004

    Gripping and relevant to current events.

    I read this book for a class in high school and was totally mesmerized by it. The situation that the main character is faced with is terrible but reminded me so much about the tyranny going on in other countries today. I definitely would recommend this book!!!

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