By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Kamel Daoud, John Cullen-translator
Narration by: Fajer Al-Kaisi
Kamel Daoud resurrects Camus’s main character from the book, “The Stranger”. He recounts the imagined life of an Algerian killed by Meursault. Camus creates “The Stranger”, Meursault, a Frenchman living in Algeria when it is on the verge of independence.
Nothing is absolutely known about Meursault’s victim. Camus suggests Meursault believes the victim is one of two people who assaulted himself and a friend on an Algerian beach. Meursault is sentenced and executed for murder but less for being guilty than of not caring for his dying mother, not believing in God, and living life without purpose.
Daoud creates a fictional brother of Camus’s victim to tell the dead brother’s story as seen through the life of a second son of the same mother.
Daoud gives the victim’s name as Musa (Arabic for Moses). The living brother decries Camus’s characterization of Musa. Musa is not named in Camus’s book. Musa’s body is never released to his family. The living brother remembers Musa as his big brother. He is constantly assaulted by his mother’s characterization of Musa as her favorite, a golden boy murdered by Meursault for protecting a woman’s honor. As Algeria fights for independence the story of Musa is embellished by ramblings of a mother overwhelmed by grief, a grief not fully acknowledged by friends or her remaining son.
The remaining son’s name is Harun. He is only seven when his older brother is killed. In Daoud’s book, he is an old man playing back his life in a confusion of a mother’s memories, his personal recollections, and the fog of liquor consumed in a run-down bar. Twenty years of conflict eventually frees Algeria from France in the 1960s. Ironically, Harun kills a French officer, after independence is achieved. Harun, similar to Meursault, is accused of murder. The French officer’s killing, like Musa’s, is not the primary issue of the murder. Like Musa’s death, the killing is a mere happenstance; i.e. a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The war of liberation is over but Harun murders the French’ officer because he happens to be hiding in the house that Harun and his mother have “liberated” and occupied. Harun, like Meursault, is not a hero but a criminal. Harun is not fighting for Algeria’s liberation and Meursault is not protecting anyone’s honor.
Harun and Meursault are the same; i.e. both are nihilists (neither believing there is meaning in life); both have little regard for their mothers, both live lives that demand nothing, give nothing, and mean nothing. Both are immoral. Neither believes in God or religion. Life is trivialized in both Daoud’s and Camus’s stories; i.e. Daoud represents an Arab perspective, and Camus a French perspective; similar outlooks, different ethnic backgrounds, but the same point of view. The devastating conclusion infers Algeria is as doomed by independence as by colonization.