Wednesday, January 27, 2016


In Camus’ classic book, The Stranger, Meursault murders a nameless Arab for no reason other than the sun was in his eyes. He is condemned by authorities not so much for taking the man’s life but rather for failing to cry at his mother’s funeral.

Now seventy years later Kamel Daoud has written a response to this,  equal in intensity and absurdity. The Meursault Investigation picks up the thread of Camus’ victim. The narrator takes him on as his brother, literally. He breathes life into him with a name, a back story and most profoundly with his death which hangs over every page in the book.  So haunted is the protagonist he becomes a mirror image of Meursault and kills a Frenchman in another irrational, motive-less crime. Similarly he is vilified by Algerian officials not for taking the man’s life but for not doing it a day earlier, as a revolutionary act.

Daoud has created an instant classic. His assault on French colonialism is matched by an equal condemnation of his country caught as it is between ennui and Allah, the torpor of existence and the illusion of immortality promised by religion.  God, we are told, is a question, not an answer. His tirade against the irrelevancy of religion has earned him a fatwa by a cleric. Yet Daoud refuses to run and hide. He is a practicing journalist in Oran. 

Both books are meditations on life and death and how we are engaged in a futile attempt to impose rational order on our existence. In this construct we are all adrift in othernessTo confront a life with death as the only certainty seems to me a beginning not an end. It then behooves us to find purpose in our allotted time.

For my part I stay with the notion that we each contain an inviolable self, a mystery I wish never to know. Peggy astonishes me with her poetry. The reach of her imagination is a wonder. Love nurtures this strangeness. Can it be we must grow closer to each other to see the otherness?

On a beach under a blazing 2 PM sun or on a mountain road under a cold 2 AM moon I didn’t recognize my own estranged brother who died with family burdens he could never speak of. It has been 54 years and his silence has become loud. With car radio playing Dizzy or the Bird and blood alcohol enough to launch him he drove his Austin-Healy into what might have looked like a portal in the wall. 

Algeria and by extension other post-colonial states, becomes the existential question according to Kamel Daoud. Given our current array of Republican fools and proto-fascists I would say this country has reached its absurd and existential moment. Sadly, we have become strangers to ourselves.

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