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The Last Summer of Reason
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Tour d'Afrique A-L Books 2008-12 > Djaout: The Last Summer of Reason | Algeria (Tour D'Afrique) first read: Nov 2008

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Muphyn | 816 comments Just wondering, how's everybody going with this month's reading?

I still haven't even managed to begin reading 'last summer' yet but hoping to get into on the weekend. Doesn't look like it's going to take very long though, only 150 pages or so... :)

Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments I am about 1/3 of the way through it. The copy I bought has a foreward by Wole Soyinka which I thought was really well written. He definitely give you food for thought. I must confess thought that I am struggling to feel a connection with the main character. I'd like to feel more invested in his fate. Maybe I will get there as the story develops.

My apologies if I was not supposed to comment on any of the specifics on the book yet. Hopefully I did not create a huge spoiler for anyone who reads this.

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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
my copy didn't arrive yet. I might take drastic measures today...

Muphyn | 816 comments nah, you didn't Wendy! you've hardly said anything that would qualify for being spoiler material! i'm now really looking forward to getting into it and finding out about the main character.

Melanie | 171 comments I am about half way through.

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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i have started it and i'm wondering if anyone is reading or has read the original french?

Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments I read it in plain old English. I'm finished w/ it, so ready to start discussing as soon as others are also ready to go :-)

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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i'll be done shortly...but i'm ready to discuss whenever (i don't mind if i haven't finished)...

and i'm curious to know if the "atmosphere" of the book felt different for someone reading it in french. i'm having a lot of trouble connecting to the story and i wonder if the translation has anything to do with it....

Melanie | 171 comments Good question, Marieke. I am reading in English and having a very hard time connecting with the character. I thought perhaps it was just me...

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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod other burning question is: has anyone read any of his other work? "last summer" was published after his death...perhaps it is not how he would have wanted it? i have not read anything else by him, but would like to see how things that he wanted published compare to this "unfinished" work...

his life seems well as the milieu in which he was writing. i just checked out "silence is death: the life and work of tahar djaout" by julija sukys (there's a little pointy-thing--sorry, i can't remember the name of that particular diacritic--about the first s of her last name)because, despite not connecting with the story (so far) i am definitely intrigued by him and his work.

message 11: by Muphyn (last edited Nov 17, 2008 01:01PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Muphyn | 816 comments i'm reading it in english too but i'd love to be able to read it in french (but argh, not quite my level...). i'd venture to say that the translation is beautiful and i'd be really surprised if native speakers would consider it a bad one. i actually love the style!! i'm not very far into it, so i can't yet say much about connecting or not connecting to the main character. will see.

haven't read any of his other works - shame on me but i'd never even heard of djaout. :(

Barbara I also thought both of those: perhaps that it was unfinished when he left it and the translation contribued to a stilted, arms-length, texture. It goes back and forth beteen the character's experiences and long treatises on religious oppression delivered as essays separate from the character. In spite of that, I found his perspectives on the personal effects of the oppression very compelling. I almost put the book down at the start, but am so glad I finished it.


I would like to preface my comments by saying that I am a sucker for a good back-story (to wit -- Irene Nemirovsky in Suite Francaise and John Kennedy Toole in "A Confederacy of Dunces"). Unfortunately, I ended up being more enamored of the back-story than the book itself in both of the examples I cited. That being said, I was very intrigued by the back-story about Djaout. It was so tragic and he had such courage to continue to do his work in the face of grave danger. I'm afraid though that I was a bit disappointed with the book -- and I really didn't want to be!

Reading it as a translation may have made a difference, but I just never felt like I was able to connect w/ the main character. The story is so sad -- I can't imagine having my family abondon me and turn against me the way his family did, and yet the only time I felt slightly emotionally invested was during the dream sequence when his son is one of the attackers.

Maybe I am missing something . . . ? Did anyone else see something that maybe I missed? I am perfectly willing to be persuaded. Maybe the book would have turned out differently if Djaout had lived to finish it. Maybe reading it in French would have felt different. Maybe I'm the only one who had this reaction to the book . . .?

I did feel extremely annoyed with myself that while the events that are being written about were actually unfolding, I was completely oblivious of all of this upheaval. It makes me worry that I am missing other important world events that are happening right now and I'm just not paying close attention. It's very unsettling.

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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i have not quite finished...i have about 30 pages left but i felt impelled to write a comment. like barbara, i almost put it down...but i stuck it out (thanks group!). i am having this recurring thought that i can't think of the book as a novel or even a story. but i don't know much about literary analysis, so these are just my very personal thoughts and observations and i don't pretend to use correct literary terminology (maybe someone can help me out in that regard!).

anyway, i feel like it's more of a meditation on a particular moment in time than a story. and i wish i knew more about djaout's, what condition was the "manuscript" in when it was found among his papers? did it really seem complete? or was he experimenting/drafting out thoughts for something that would take better shape later? or maybe it's just his style since he was also a journalist?

there is no character development,maybe that is why no one seems able to connect. we don't know much of boualem's personal story, not in any substantial sense, so we don't have much personal attachment to this stream of thoughts he is presenting to us. that is how i am seeing things so far.

Andrea | 660 comments May contain spoilers
I've finished the book and felt, like others did that it is hard to feel the "story" here. The fact that the son, daughter and wife never appear, and we don't see the change as gradual, but just his memories of his daughter and son as children and then their rejection of them, makes it hard for me to see BY's description of the family drama as complete. I agree with one other comment that it seems perhaps "meditation on an experience" would be a better description. Or the old meaning of the word "essay," to try to explain something. But I do find the discussions of religious fanaticism intriguing. I come out of a fairly fundamentalist religious tradition myself (not Muslim), and found some of the reasoning chillingly familiar.

Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments I'm so relieved that I wasn't the only one who had some difficulties w/ this book. I guess it was the lack of character development that was so maddening for me. I wanted to know and understand more about the family dynamics, and there were so few glimpses into that.

The fanatacism was definitely interesting, although I have read other books that I felt did a better job of really conveying what fanatacism means on a day to day basis. I think "A Thousand Splendid Suns" did a good job of illustrating it in a really compelling way. Also, "Lipstick Jihad" does a nice job too. I grant you those books aren't set in Africa, but when I read them I felt like I developed a better understanding of what it really would mean to live under a totalitatarian theocracy.

I would have liked to have had more insights into what it was, specifically, that was effective in drawing the masses in to the fundamentalist furor. I realize that great pressure was put on people to tow the line, but it would seem like they would have to buy in to the dogma, at least at some level, to really get so many young people -- both male and female -- to become part of the movement.

Also, the use of children to propagate (sp?) the message was interesting (albeit frightening). Nothing new though I suppose given the Hitler Youth Movement, etc.

I think Marieke is right, this book is more a meditation than a narrative. Put in those terms, the book makes more sense -- although I still did not enjoy it as I had hoped I would.

Great discussion -- I'm so glad that we have so many active participants in this group!

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Muphyn | 816 comments I've finally gotten around to reading the book too and I must say that I loved the style and enjoyed it! The ending came a bit abrupt, I thought, and perhaps marieke is right, the manuscript wasn't complete. i thought it was a wonderful translation (though i probably shouldn't be saying this since i haven't read the original), and i love the whole stream of consciousness thing! and no, it's not a story in the traditional sense but that didn't bother me in the slightest since i quite like more abstract writings. and it did start off a bit more as a narrative and then gradually shifted towards more of BY's stream of consciousness.

I actually connected to BY, especially in the scene where he dreams and is confronted by his own son's actions - i found that very powerful, and it took me quite by surprise that it was actually a dream. of course, the entire story (or "meditation") was detached and strangely void of emotion like a dream sequence, or rather nightmare i suppose, from which you hope to wake up real soon. and i think that's what i connected with.

i didn't mind that his family was left out of it, made the whole experience more powerful, i thought.

would be interesting to read any of djaout's other works - maybe his style is just much more detached in general.

great discussion!! i really enjoyed reading all your thoughts. it's great to be reading a book "together". :)

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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i still didn't quite finish the book. (sorry!) but part of me would like to reread it since now i know what to expect in terms of the style. also, muphyn's comments have influenced me a little to lean more towards my positive reactions to the book rather than negative (i feel like i'm on a see-saw in that regard). however, i'm not 100% excited about the translation...(although it might not be the translation at all)...some of the word choices/phrases seemed off to me and detracted from the power of the story. but others were simply beautiful. i really like spare language to describe powerful events/emotions/situations...and although the language was generally spare, i think, some of the words were unnecessarily "large" and did not capture the essence the way i would have hoped...i thought a simpler word would have conveyed the thought better. i don't have my copy at hand, but this evening i will check for some examples of what i mean. but i'm wondering if others also noticed phrases or passages that they found particularly great or particularly lacking...

Muphyn | 816 comments i liked the book so much that i can't remember any phrases/expressions! haha. maybe i need to reread it! but i'm quite interested to hear what kind of phrases/expressions seemed odd to you. maybe that'll trigger my shoddy memory!

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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i don't know if i have the energy to find the odd expressions tonight...but i did find one of my favorite passages. as a person trying to learn how to operate in both written and spoken arabic, i really enjoyed this bit about the arabic language (the first two paragraphs of the chapter "the binding text" on page 67 in the edition with soyinke's forward).

"Boualem is very fond of Arabic texts with their loose punctuation, texts that know no quotation marks and where all voices hold dialogues and blend. Long discursive spirals. An abstraction of letters curved in a veritable geometry of bas-relief. A language that is abstract in itself, despite the burden of words and their sounds meant to awaken a bogged-down memory. You have to be on your guard at all times, a vigilant reader, to reestablish the lines from the meaning, to mark out the territory from the phrases, to take apart the coiled-up paragraphs. Each time the reading is a new adventure, unpredictable steps forward, convoluted comings and goings to flush out the face of the words, give them back their purpose, place them in their role of locomotive or carriage. It is a hesitant and prudent reading in which you try to avoid misleading or rambling paths.

Sometimes, words drag you along like impatient dogs and, out of breath and stumbling, you are forced to follow. Should the route prove to be long you begin to be distracted by a multitude of diverging, intertwining, or crumbling paths. You hesitate and become concerned, but at the end of the course you manage to rein in the restive words that have raced along. They stop rearing and pawing the ground, meekly come to a standstill, and stretch their necks out to Boualem, who ascribes meanings and roles to them. They become companions once more, lanterns lighting the planet and unveiling its wonders. Letters that are cursive or hooked, plump or spindly. Letters that are populated with a whimsical menagerie."

I liked this passage because i could identify with it, but also i think it makes an interesting point about language in Algeria, an issue that was addressed in the introduction to some degree. Arabic is the official language of Algeria, not French, but most works of literature coming out of Algeria are francophone...i just wonder at what point will that begin to change in the post-colonial era...

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