The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I first read the Stranger by Camus in high school. Then again after college, then once more, this time in French. I fell in love with his writing, consuming everything he produced. I read biographies of him. But then, I started to see the disconnect he had between what he wrote and how he viewed his birthplace in Algeria, the French colony where the native population didn’t have the same rights as the French colonizers. It complicated him for me and made me want to explore it more.
Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, is just what I needed. He offers a take on Camus’s defining novel. It turns the story around, to look at the situation from the perspective of the murdered character’s brother. It’s eye-opening, to say the least. I never really thought about this when I read the Stranger, but the person Meursault murders is only called “The Arab.” He never gets a name or any humanity. Even at Meursault’s trial, the focus is more on the main character’s lack of sympathy regarding his mother’s death than the murder. Daoud’s novel calls that out and tries to re-inscribe the dead man, Musa, into the book of humanity. Through a wonderful re-use of The Stranger’s opening paragraph and the narrative device used in Camus’s later novel, The Fall, Daoud explores the murder of the narrator’s brother and what it does to him, his mother and his country.
The narrator beautiful states one core element of his thesis: “You can’t easily kill a man when he has a given name” (Ch. 5, p. 52). Camus called the murdered man “the Arab” or “an Arab”. But the narrator says “Arab. I never felt Arab, you know. Arab-ness is like Negro-ness, which only exists in the white man’s eyes” (Ch. 6, p. 60). Later, “He was Musa to us, his family, his neighbors, but it was enough for him to venture a few meters into the French part of the city, a single glance from one of them was enough to make him lose everything, starting with his name, which went floating off into some blind spot in the landscape” (Ch. 6, p. 61). From these three quotes, I felt a resonance with what is going on today in Baltimore, Ferguson, Sanford, Charleston and others cities across the US. My jaw just dropped, thinking how this Algerian, writing in French, in 2013, so nailed the events and discourses going on today in America.
The author also deals with religion and atheism throughout the novel. One line that stood out for me was: “How can you believe God has spoken to only one man, and that one man has stopped talking forever?” (Ch. 7, p. 69).
The Arab Spring is also touched upon, I believe. While talking about the newly independent Algeria of 1962, I feel he was also talking about today’s Libya, Tunisia, etc. Rebel groups, some extreme, some poor, some illiterate, came together to overthrow a bad government. But, once it was gone, they didn’t seem to want to go back underground, or dissolve. They like their newfound power and are unwilling to give it up so easily. Something to consider, both for countries that underwent these revolutions and for Western nations, especially the US, which want to dive into yet another war, arming anyone who will overthrow the tyrant du jour. A warning: remember that the US, in its proxy war with the Soviet Union, funded and backed extremist in Afghanistan. That didn’t work out too well in the long term for anyone on our planet.
This is an amazing read and one for people to read for so many reasons. And, if politics, religion, philosophy, etc. aren’t your thing, it’s still a really good story, well-paced, well-written and nicely translated.