People of the book

<strong>The Last Summer of Reason</strong>

Tahar Djaout <em>University of Nebraska Press, 176pp,

In 1993, the Algerian novelist and newspaper editor Tahar Djaout was assassinated by religious fundamentalists. As Alek Baylee Toumi explains in his introduction to Djaout’s last novel, in the early to mid-Nineties more journalists were murdered in Algeria than anywhere in the rest of the world. The Last Summer of Reason, found unfinished among Djaout’s papers, tells the story of a country’s radicalisation and its violent, often surreal war on culture.

Although, as a bookseller, Boualem doesn’t “create questions and beauty”, he quietly contributes to their “dissemination”. The novel opening asks: “Of what use are books when the Book exists to sate every curiosity?”

Djaout’s shadow world is an Orwellian landscape, watched over by the Big Brother-like Vigilant Brothers. Boualem’s own family has rejected him in order to join them. In one scene, we watch an imprisoned Boualem snatch a gun from the hands of a guard and shoot down his zealot son. It’s a striking moment, undercut by Djaout’s decision to pull back, revealing it was a nightmare. The allegorical power of the novel is compromised by this kind of hesitancy, and by its constant tug of war between cinematic drama and raw polemic.