cover image The Meursault Investigation

The Meursault Investigation

Kamel Daoud, trans. from the French by John Cullen. Other Press, $14.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-59051-751-2

Camus’s The Stranger is vividly reimagined in Daoud’s intensely atmospheric novel (a finalist for the Prix Goncourt), which is told in a meandering monologue by the adult Harun, over the course of several visits to a bar in Oran, Algeria. Harun’s older brother, Musa, an Algerian Arab, was shot by the Frenchman Meursault on an Algiers beach in 1942; his body was never recovered. Musa’s missing corpse casts a long shadow over Harun, “condemned to a secondary role” by his widowed mother as she drags him on an interminable investigation into the death, taking the two from the Bab-el-Oued neighborhood of Algiers to the town of Hadjout, in northern Algeria. Determined to “organize the world” through language, the teenage Harun masters French in flashback, and he is 27 by the time a chance encounter offers him an opportunity to irrevocably alter his fate. As Harun meditates on guilt, alienation, and his failed affair with Meriem, a university student, his quarrel is revealed to be not just with his mother and Meursault, but with post-Independence Algeria and God himself. Ultimately, Harun identifies more with his brother’s killer than with his own zealous countrymen. The ghostlike “double” he sees in the bar where the tale is told may be Camus himself: “I’m his Arab. Or maybe he’s mine.” Daoud resists affirming which interpretation is “truer,” and readers will be captivated by the ambiguity. (June)