In the Sunday April 5th edition of The New York Times Magazine Adam Shatz explores the complex history of postcolonial Algeria, Kamel Daoud’s place in it, and Algerian reactions to Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation. Shatz traveled to Algeria to observe the author and to speak to some of his peers and contemporaries, including novelists Maïssa Bey and Rachid Boudjedra, historian Daho Djerbal, and journalist Ghania Mouffok. Their disparate views on Daoud and his work are evidence of both Algeria’s conflicting political landscape and the impact Daoud has had on the literary world.
Reading [Daoud’s] columns in Le Quotidien d’Oran, a French-language newspaper, I saw …[he] had an original, epigrammatic style: playful, lyrical, brash. I could also see why he’d been accused of racism, even “self-hatred.” After Sept. 11, for example, he wrote that the Arabs had been “crashing” for centuries and that they would continue crashing so long as they were better known for hijacking planes than for making them. …The more I read Daoud, the more I sensed he was driven not by self-hatred but by disappointed love. Here was a writer in his early 40s, a man my age, who believed that people in Algeria and the wider Muslim world deserved a great deal better than military rule or Islamism, the two-entree menu they had been offered since the end of colonialism, and who said so with force and brio.
The Meursault Investigation was first published in Algeria in 2013 by Éditions Barzakh, then in 2014 by Actes Sud in France, where it became a bestseller and was a finalist for France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. Shatz praised the novel, saying:
Nothing…prepared me for [Daoud’s] first novel, a thrilling retelling of Albert Camus’s 1942 classic, The Stranger, from the perspective of the brother of the Arab killed by Meursault, Camus’s antihero. The novel…not only breathes new life into The Stranger; it also offers a bracing critique of postcolonial Algeria… The premise is ingenious: that The Stranger, about the murder of an unnamed Arab on an Algiers beach, was a true story…Meursault is less a critique of The Stranger than its postcolonial sequel.
Shatz spoke to Daoud about his life in Algeria and his relationship to Camus’s work. Daoud says:
The Stranger is a philosophical novel, but we’re incapable of reading it as anything other than a colonial novel. The most profound question in Camus is religious: What do you do in relation to God if God doesn’t exist? The most powerful scene in The Stranger is the confrontation between the priest and the condemned man. Meursault is indifferent with women, with the judge, but he becomes choleric in the face of the priest. And here, in my novel, is someone revolting against God. Harun, for me, is a hero in a conservative society.
Ferhat Bouda/Agence Vu, for The New York Times
The Meursault Investigation will be published by Other Press on June 2nd.