The nameless Arab victim of Albert Camus’ The Stranger receives a biography and a name in this thoughtful, controversial rejoinder from the other side of the colonial question.
“Musa, Musa, Musa…I like to repeat that name from time to time so it doesn’t disappear.” So writes Algerian novelist Daoud, whose protagonist returns Camus’ favor by skirting around the name and facts of his most famous book, except to complain that Musa is destined to “remain ‘the Arab’ forever.” Meursault, Camus' murderer, is long dead, and so, of course, is Musa. Unlike Meursault’s mother, though, Musa’s is alive—ancient but alive—and still trying to get recognition as the progenitor of a martyr in the cause of Algerian independence. Alas, the bureaucracy is even more indifferent than Meursault. As for the brother/narrator, he’s a barroom kvetcher and keeper of grudges who, like Meursault, can barely be moved to stir—until one day, some accident of fate compels him to act, finally, and take his lumps for it. The parallels between Meursault and him are numerous, and though the mood of Daoud’s slender novel, originally published in French in 2013, is more plaintive, it is also grudgingly respectful toward its predecessor: “A masterpiece, my friend. A mirror held up to my soul and to what would become of me in this country, between Allah and ennui.” It is for his sly insertions of religious questioning that Daoud has come under fire in his native country, having been the recent subject of a fatwa for venturing to suggest, in the final chapter, that the proper business of humankind is to tend to life on the mortal plane. Free-speech advocates may want to praise the author for his daring view on that matter, but this novel is praiseworthy enough as it stands.
Fiction with a strong moral edge, offering a Rashomon-like response to a classic novel.