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The modern enthusiasm for exploiting existing intellectual property (IP), brings us everything from Hannibal Lecter's backstory to Jane Austen heroine's fighting zombies. Much of it is fun, but little of it seems necessary. The very idea of Kamel Daoud's novel, on the other hand, which retells Camus's The Stranger from an Arab perspective, strikes one immediately as inevitable and overdue. The victim in that famous novel is, after all, no more than an afterthought. Camus does not even grant him the dignity of a name. And recall that the controversial tune by The Cure cut to the chase, titled just Killing an Arab. Daoud's conceit here not only gives the murdered man a name, Musa, but allows his brother, Harun, to depict the aftermath of the killing and of the effect on him and his mother of having the event turned into a fiction. Here is how he recasts the story:
Let’s go back. It’s always a good thing to go back and review the basics. A Frenchman kills an Arab who’s lying on a deserted beach. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon on a summer day in 1942. Five gunshots, followed by a trial. The killer’s condemned to death for having buried his mother badly and spoken of her with too much indifference. Technically, the killing itself is due either to the sun or to pure idleness. A pimp named Raymond is angry with a whore and asks your hero to write her a threatening letter, which he does. Things go downhill, and then the story seems to resolve itself in a murder. The Arab is killed because the murderer thinks he wants to avenge the prostitute, or maybe because he has the insolence to take a siesta. You find the summary of your book unsettling, eh? But it is the naked truth. All the rest is embellishments, the products of your writer’s genius. Afterward, nobody bothers about the Arab, his family, or his people. When the murderer leaves prison, he writes a book that becomes famous, in which he recounts how he stood up to God, a priest, and the absurd. You can turn that story in all directions, it doesn't hold up. It's the story of a crime, but the Arab isn't even killed in it -- well, he is killed, but barely, delicately, with the fingertips, as it were. He's the second most important character in the book, but he has no name, no face, no words. Does that make any sense to you, educated man that you are? The story's absurd! It's a blatant lie.
That much of this novel serves as a deserved correction.

But it could really be a short story. Instead, in expanding upon Harun's anger, Daoud more or less turns him into Meursault. Harun grudgingly acknowledges that Camus captured something of his own life and the situation of Algeria generally, trapped "between Allah and ennui." But then he leans into the ennui and Harun ends up, as The Cure might put it, "killing a Frenchman." And so the indictment loses its force.


Grade: (B-)


Kamel Daoud Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Kamel Daoud
    -ENTRY: Kamel Daoud: Algerian writer (Steven R. Serafin, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Meursault Investigation
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Meursault Investigation (SuperSummary)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Meursault Investigation Study Guide (Lit Charts)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Meursault Investigation (BookRags)
    -EXCERPT: Musa: from The Meursault Investigation (Kamel Daoud, The New Yorker)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Kamel Daoud (The Yale Lecture, November 9, 2015)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Kamel Daoud | The Meursault Investigation (free Library of Philadelphia, Nov 18, 2015)
    -ESSAY: Kamel Daoud: Meursault: Algeria’s predicament is a massive displacement of the population toward an absolute and irreversible Elsewhere. (Kamel Daoud, Translated by Suzanne Ruta, March 28, 2011, Guernica)
    -ESSAY: Kamel Daoud’s Daily Dose of Subversion (Kamel Daoud, Translation and introduction by Suzanne Ruta, April 8, 2011, Berfrois)
    -ESSAY: Saudi Arabia an Isis that has Made It (Kamel Daoud, 11/21/15, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Cologne, lieu de fantasmes: Selon l’écrivain Kamel Daoud, l’accueil des réfugiés demande d’admettre que leur donner des papiers ne suffira pas à les guérir du profond sexisme qui sévit dans le monde arabo-musulman (Kamel Daoud, 29 janvier 2016, Le Monde) (in French)
    -ESSAY: The Sexual Misery of the Arab World (KAMEL DAOUD FEB. 12, 2016, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Rise and Fall of an Algerian Warlord (Kamel Daoud, Jul 18, 2011, Words without Borders)
    -ESSAY: An Algerian Self-Immolates, the Desert Spreads (Kamel Daoud, Jul 6, 2011 , Words without Borders)
    -ESSAY: Meeting of the Pharaohs by the Red Sea (Kamel Daoud, Feb 18, 2011, Words without Borders)
    -ESSAY: The arrogant regime of Algeria’s invisible man faces collapse: Attempts to quash the truth of Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s declining health have failed (Kamel Daoud, 10 Mar 2019, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: My mind and body were not my own until I read The Fruits of the Earth: The 1970s Algeria I grew up in was religious and austere. André Gide’s hymn to the human body liberated me from that (Kamel Daoud, 20 Apr 2020, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: Insolence, Exile, and the Kingdom: Robert Zaretsky interviews Kamel Daoud (Robert Zaretsky, JUNE 9, 2015, LA Review of Books)
    -PROFILE: Writing Algeria (Jennifer Solheim, OCTOBER 16, 2018, LA Review of Books)
    -PROFILE: Novelist Kamel Daoud, Finding Dignity In The Absurd (Robert Spiegel, August 21, 2015, NPR: All Things Considered)
    -PROFILE: Algeria’s Invisible Arab (Roger Cohen, 7/25/15, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud sparks Islamophobia row (Hugh Schofield, 3/07/16, BBC News)
    -ESSAY: Algeria After Camus: The Missing History of Kamel Daoud's The Meursault Investigation (Namara Smith, December 8, 2015, n+1)
    -ESSAY: The Meursault Investigation: A Contrapuntal Reading (R. Radhakrishnan, 18 August 2017, Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry)
    -ESSAY: Literature as post-colonial reality? Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation (Natalya Vince, Fiction and Film for French Historians )
    -ESSAY: Meursault and the Sickness of Imperialism (RON JACOBS, APRIL 1, 2016, CounterPunch)
    -PODCAST: Under The Algerian Sun: Camus and Daoud (Christopher Lydon, 6/19/15, Radio Open Source)
    -BOOK LIST: The 10 Best Translated Novels of the Decade (Emily Temple, November 12, 2019, Lit Hub)
    -ARCHIVES: Kamel Daoud (The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: Daoud (Words without Borders)
    -REVIEW: of The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud (Robin Yassin-Kassab, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Claire Messud, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Suzanne Ruta, Words without Borders)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Eileen Battersby, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Michael Mewshaw, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Azadeh Moaveni, Financial Times)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Ron Srigley, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Namara Smith, N+1)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Mike Maggio, Washington Independent Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Victoria Baena, Words Without Borders)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Nick Fraser, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Shaun McMichael, Contrary Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Elisabeth Zerofsky, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (John Powers, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (David Burr Gerard, B&N Review)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (O. Gabi-WilliamsAcademia) [PDF]
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Terry Hong, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Three Percent)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Heller McAlpin, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (argumatronic)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Jon Morris, Pop Matters)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Heather Scott Partington , ploughshares)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Janice Tsang, HKR Books)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Jim Higgins, Journal Sentinel)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (John Mullen, Ph.D., Metapsychology)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Feroz Rather, Southeast Review)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Jennifer Bryce, Littlesmackerel)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Moze Halperin, Flavorwire)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Tribune News Service)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (James Ratcliff, Online Ahwa)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Andrea Gibbons, Writing Cities)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Julia Schwartz, Inside Arabia)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Robert Zaretsky, Forward)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (James Campbell, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Monica Tomas, Totally Dublin)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Patrick West, The Tablet)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Patrick Marnham, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Jeffrey C. Isaac, Dissent)
    -REVIEW: of Meursault Investigation (Malcolm Forbes, The National)
    -REVIEW: of Chroniques by Kamel Daoud (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Zabor, or the Psalms by Kamel Daoud (Jude Cook, TLS)

Book-related and General Links:

    -REVIEW: The Camus Investigation: Alice Kaplan’s new book, "Looking for 'The Stranger,'" explores Albert Camus’s fraught relationship with his Algerian homeland. (Ryu Spaeth, September 22, 2016, New Republic)