Chronicle of a Last Summer follows the life of an Egyptian girl growing up in Cairo during three different defining summers: one when she is six years old living at home with her family, one when she is a college student and hopeful filmmaker and one when she is living as a writer and navigating the turbulent aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow.
There is very little differentiation between the personal and the political in Yasmine El Rashidi’s novel. Seemingly every decision the main character must make about how she lives her life is reflective of the current political state of her country. Readers may find this novel strikingly prevalent in relation to America’s current political climate—especially in regard to government attempts to snuff out the voices of many underrepresented groups, including women.
Nevertheless, Rashidi’s main character continues to find ways for her voice to be heard. In a world that is persistent in its attempts to silence the voices of many, the main character lets her imagination and her art speak for herself—but this does not come without a price.
Through the narrative style of free indirect discourse—where it is never explicitly stated who is speaking or to whom—Rashidi also allows the characters to bleed into one another, thus encouraging the reader to acquire an increased astuteness to her surroundings and forge her way through the increasing chaos that is a society in revolution. Subtleties such as this convey Rashidi’s keen awareness of the world. She sends a message to her readers that she is aware that it is the subtle moments of life—not the obvious ones—that lead to events as big as revolutions. Her mastery of language echoes these ideas on the page, allowing them to be absorbed only by the careful reader.
This book raises important questions of what it means to not only be a member of an oppressive society, but to also be an aspiring artist within said society. Rashidi challenges the reader with questions we’ve long contemplated, and still must. Is activism through art enough? What if one wishes to simply create art and not have it serve some greater political purpose? What is an artist’s role in an oppressed society?
These questions force the reader to come face to face with the prospect of a loss of free will under oppressive regimes. Unfortunately, as Rashidi brings to light, with the rise of regimes, oftentimes, sacrifices must be made. The vision that one once had for themselves and their future may be hindered or altered in order to combat injustices for which they never would have dreamed of asking.
The stories in Rashidi’s book are all crucial—and readers will be especially appreciative of the unassuming, though strong female voice who has chosen to tell it.