Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

The brother of a murdered fictional character finds his life stunted by that murder

Harun was just an Arab boy in colonial Algeria, the abandoned son of a night watchman, when for no reason his brother was murdered by an enervated French colonist. The boiling desire of his illiterate mother for revenge deformed Harun’s life. Now old, a heavy drinker, he lives in the devoutly Muslim village as an outcast, never having married, never having been with a woman. Eventually the reader learns, however, that Harun's mother got her revenge.

Ultimately this was a sad book, in a way The Stranger was not sad. Harun has wasted his life. Also, could it also be that maybe Algeria has wasted her revolution?  Harun is haunted not only by his murdered brother, whom he barely remembers, but by the expectations of his tough ignorant mother who will not let the murder go.  What the mother and most of the Arabs want is revenge on the French. And when they get their revenge, at last they get some relief.

I like the way Daoud, right from the very beginning, enters into the outright comparison with Camus. There are two conceits here – first that The Stranger is a non fiction book, the testimony of a real life man. Emotional truth meets fictional lies. Also, that this book is narrated to a young student. Can this novel stand on its own? Can you read it without having read The Stranger? I don’t think so.

I also not this novel began with more than a whiff of misogyny. When your central metaphor is that Algiers is an old whore’s vagina, there's going to be a lot of negative references to whores and also to vaginas. The misogyny faded away as we got closer to the end, and realize Harun is a pathetic loser.   A loser who learned to love the French language.  Also, at the end, we get an obligatory iman scene to match the famous scene with the priest in The Stranger. 

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