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.