Friday, July 10, 2015

“The Meursault Investigation” by Kamel Daoud – The Silent Victims

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud - book cover
Albert Camus' The Stranger is one of the few novels out there that managed to achieve an international level of renown, the kind that makes it a worthy subject of study in countless universities and literary circles. As a matter of fact, it achieved such tremendous fame for the depth of its criticisms and portrayals of society that an author by the name of Kamel Daoud decided to write something that could be best-classified as a spin-off, titled The Meursault Investigation.

Daoud focuses on a nameless character from the book, that of “the Arab”, who ended up killed by Meursault. The original story says very little about him, with Camus not even being bothered to give this victim a voice or a story. Daoud gives the nameless Arab a name, Musa, and writes the book through the eyes of his brother, Harun, who many years later decides to shed light on his brother's story, refusing to let him be forgotten by time. Basically, Harun describes and discusses the events which in Musa's life which eventually led to his untimely death on that damned beach.

You have to admit that at first sight, the book already has a rather interesting promise, offering more of the captivating world portrayed in The Stranger and exploring a thematically-heavy part of the story, showing why in itself it could have been the focus of a book. It is always entertaining and sometimes even eye-opening to get new perspectives on old stories and review them, and this book offers just that. The writing isn't the simplest, nor is it the most complex; some of the sentences felt somewhat ill-constructed, though I will assume that such is the price we pay when things are lost in translation.

When it comes to the story itself, Musa's life seems to have been rather eventful, the kind stories can be written about for years and years to come. Along with describing the more and less mundane parts of his life, Harun also interjects his own thoughts and opinions on various matters, and ultimately it becomes somewhat apparent that the main topic here is colonialism, specifically in Algeria and how it impacted the locals (it impacted them catastrophically, just to be clear). The more the book goes on, the more it becomes a deep and insightful meditation on the meaning and importance of identity, especially in relation to one's country. Thankfully though, entertainment value isn't sacrificed through these deliberations... rather, it is only increased by them as they allow us to become closer and closer to the characters, the silent victims who had to endure all too much abuse.

Needless to say, this novel moves at a far slower pace than a high-speed thriller or suspense book. It is driven by characters and the way they becomes shaped by all the events they end up living through, are made to endure. There is very little excitement in the way of action to be found here, and I'm certainly not saying that in a bad way... it's just that it might be to everyone's taste.

All things considered, The Meursault Investigation is a very interesting work of literature, one that could even be enjoyed without prior familiarity with The Stranger. It takes you on an emotional journey that really will make you wonder about a whole host of things, one you certainly won't finish empty-handed. Recommended to anyone who isn't afraid of a slower-paced, introspective book that deals with heavy and interesting subjects.

Kamel Daoud (June 17, 1970)

Kamel Daoud

Kamel Daoud is a writer and journalist from Algeria whose debut novel, The Meursault Investigation won him the Goncourt du Premier Roman prize, the Francois Mauriac Prize, as well as the Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie.

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