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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Last Chapter

Leila Abouzeid

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To purchase The Last Chapter

Title: The Last Chapter
Author: Leila Abouzeid
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2000)
Length: 163 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Last Chapter - US
The Last Chapter - UK
The Last Chapter - Canada
The Last Chapter - India
  • Arabic title: الفصل الأخير
  • Translated by the author and John Liechety
  • With an Afterword by the author

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Our Assessment:

B : choppy, but strident tone works quite well

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Last Chapter is -- except for its last chapter -- narrated by Aisha, and is a loosely biographical account, the smart young Moroccan woman describing the path she has taken. It is a quick, critical overview of post-colonial Morocco and many of its institutions -- beginning with the education system. Typical are devastating summary observations:

     There were two of us girls in a class of forty-two. (The capacity of the Moroccan classroom is limitless, like that of the Moroccan second-class bus.)
       Starting university in the 1960s, she is still keenly aware of the colonial legacy and drag it has had on the whole system (among other things):
The year Morocco became independent, 1956, there were reputed to be just six female high school graduates, a direct consequence of forty-four years of French rule. The exact number is not important, what is important is that the French so obviously interfered with our education. The modern university able to start only after independence. All we had got from the colonialists in terms of education was a second-rate knowledge of their language.
       Exceptionally intelligent -- "They used to say that your teacher would lock his room when he graded your papers, because he didn't want anyone catching him using a dictionary", a classmate recalls -- university is nevertheless only a way-station, not salvation: "flavorless, colorless, and odorless", she brushes over her years there. Nevertheless, her education allows her to live (relatively) independently, and throughout she contrasts this with the role expected of her (wife, mother) and what might have been, in other circumstances.
       Aisha recalls that the first suitor asking for her hand made his pitch when she was just twelve, and many would follow; while her father sent the most unsuitable ones packing, he also complicated her marriage-opportunities. Taking a second wife, he is in this respect also too typical of Moroccan society, Aisha finds: "Husbands in our country are born with an instinct for betrayal", she maintains, and her experiences support that opinion. Engaged, she never gets married, romance collapsing -- in what is usually (and not just in her case) the fault of lying men.
       Professional life is similarly far from the ideals one might hope for, with the incompetent promoted simply because of the proper connections. In the case of a ministry job, Aisha eventually resigns because of the intolerable situation -- but not before offering a whole series of (horribly) illustrative anecdotes.
       Short, quick, the novel lingers over some connections and exchanges but is perhaps most powerful in its small, sharp asides, such as Aisha translating back into Arabic the letters in French she receives from one of her suitors -- noting:
Language is the most insidious wedge the colonialists have driven into our society.
       (In her Afterword Arabic-writing Abouzeid explains her loathing of the colonial language -- to the extent that she: "turned to English as my means of communication with the West", another colonial language, but one she: "had no confrontation with".)
       The final chapter offers an entirely new perspective, the reflection of a former classmate of Aisha's who married and took an entirely different path, reminded of Aisha when she sees her appearing on television. It is an effective contrast and commentary, expressing similar frustrations even in what seem to be entirely different circumstances. "This is what they do then, toying with people's lives", she complains, feeling the same powerlessness against the entrenched (and generally male) forces that be.
       Aisha is an interesting figure: an intellectual but also religious, a single, working woman who is marked and suffers, both personally and within this society, for never having married (and had a flock of kids). The often strident narrative is refreshingly forthright, even if the narrative is too rushed and choppy -- a torrent, in which much is missing or goes under. Still, the overall effect is quite powerful, as The Last Chapter cuts to the quick of post-colonial Morocco, presented from an interesting perspective, in a fresh voice.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 May 2015

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Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Moroccan author Leila Abouzeid (ليلى أبو زيد) was born in 1950.

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