The Meursault Investigation – Kamel Daoud

the meursault investigation
First published in 2013, translated from French by John Cullen, published in English in 2015

The Meursault Investigation (henceforth will be referred to as TMI) by Kamel Daoud is a response to the literary classic The Stranger / The Outsider by Albert Camus. I happen to read The Stranger last year, so when my GR book group chose this and that it was available to buy in Waterstones as their “Buy Books for Syria” program, I decided to delve in.

To give a bit of background, Albert Camus is French Algerian (or pied-noir), and published The Stranger in 1942. He won the Nobel prize in literature in 1957. Algeria became independent from France in 1962 (though the decolonisation movement started in 1956).

Would you need to read The Stranger first before TMI? Yes, I’d recommend it. You would have a deeper understanding starting from The Stranger.

So in The Stranger, the “hero” named Meursault murders a man who is referred to in the book only as “the Arab”. The “hero” of TMI is the brother of the Arab, named Harun. From Harun we learn how the murder affects his and his mother’s life. The mother becomes obsessed about finding the murderer, and forever lives in grief of her dead son, almost forgetting about her other son.

Harun himself is obsessed about the death of his brother, though much of it stems from his mother’s. The fact that his brother is never named in Meursault’s narrative becomes his biggest sore point. I can understand the anger towards Meursault as the face of the French colonists. I was nodding at him about the absurdity of the use of the word “Arab”. Quoting Harun: “Arab. I never felt Arab, you know. Arab-ness is like Negro-ness, which only exists in the white man’s eyes.” 

I liked the book. Would it be able to stand on its own without The Stranger? I’d like to think it could, thought the connection to the Stranger doesn’t hurt the promotion surely. From TMI I learned more about the socio dynamics of native Algerians, the relationship with their French colonists, and the history of the country relating to its independence.

My only reservation is that the book could be a bit repetitive. I guess there’s only so much you can write about in the limited context. It could probably benefit from a tighter editing – cut it by 20-30 pages. Just my 2c :)

Mee’s rating: 4/5 – I like how TMI offers a fresh perspective of a native Algerian. It is quite different with reading Algerian story by Albert Camus. One country, two perspectives. Read both.

Kamel Daoud
Kamel Daoud
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