Two strangers: On Kamel Daoud’s “The Meursault Investigation”

imagesI’ve finished Kamel Daoud’s “The Meursualt Investigation”, and I am dumbfounded–by its premise, its narrative energy, its burning language, but most of all by its courage of the imagination–the courage to reverse the tables, so to speak, and tell the story of Camus’ “The Stranger” from the viewpoint of the Algerian brother of the murdered “Arab.”

Not since my last re-reading Tayeb Saleh’s “The Season of Migration to the North,” has a novel affected me as profoundly as Daoud’s slim volume.  Like Saleh’s work, this one too is a sort of confession, more precisely an indictment in the guise of a confession.  Like Saleh’s novel, this one too is the answer from what used to be called the Third World, from colonialism’s victims. And like Saleh’s novel, this too is ferocious in its language and indictments.

But Daoud’s work goes a step further: it makes its story equal to Camus’, or more correctly implicitly argues that Camus’ story is incomplete, that it can be completed only in another novel from the other side of the divide.  In putting forward this premise, Daoud places his novel in direct opposition to Camus’, especially in the telling of the story.  I read the skilled English translation, by John Cullen; I can imagine how much more fiery the French original must be.  But even in the English rendition, Daoud’s language is the language of fire, ashes and embers.  In opposition to Camus’ cool, distanced style, Daoud gives us page after page of burning prose.

What about Meursault’s victim, the unnamed Arab?  That is the question Daoud’s novel devotes itself to, by giving the dead Arab a name, a family, a history, and a geography of place so viscerally–almost erotically–so alive it took my breath away, reminding me of Camus’ beautiful essays on Algeria.  In this and other ways, the novel is also a psychological thriller, a narrative forged on the foundations of a murder, told by a narrator cursed for life who carries the violence of the original murder in his heart and body, whose revenge and punishment is yet to come. The novel concludes with the narrator’s words:  “I too would wish them to be legion, my spectators, and savage in their hate.”

I doubt that Camus’ “The Stranger” will ever be read again without its other, Daoud’s “The Meursault Investigation”–both strangers, the colonialist Frenchman and the post-independence Algerian.

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About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
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