Thursday, September 3, 2015

Re-visiting The Stranger

A few months ago, I re-read The Stranger by Albert Camus. We had read a passage of it in my French conversation class and my curiosity was piqued. I admit that my memory of the details of the book were sketchy. As those of you who read it may remember, it takes place in 1963 in Algeria toward the end of their war of independence from France. The main character Meursault is arrested for and charged with killing an Arab Algerian. He is tried in court but also tried in the court of public opinion for his apparent callousness toward his mother’s recent death.

In The Meursault Investigation written by Kamel Daoud, an Algerian journalist, and translated by John Cullen, The Stranger is turned inside out, told by Daoud from the Arab point of view.  The language that Daoud uses is quite descriptive and very poetic. It is a parallel story of what became of the family of Mersault's victim.

The main point of The Meursault Investigation is that Meusault’s victim is never referred to by his name and his body is never actually found. Equally anonymous are the victim’s mother and brother who are never able to move forward with their lives after the murder. Instead, they spend the rest of their lives unsuccessfully trying to make sense of it as it destroys their lives.

The book brings to mind the Woody Guthrie song “All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees.” One way to de-humanize a victim is to take away his name. Once the victim becomes less than human, it is easier to assuage one's guilt feelings while abusing another human being. Meursault’s victim’s family never achieves closure. The Deportees – Mexican migrant farmers – are lost in everyone’s memory. Concentration camp inmates had their names removed and numbers tattooed on their arms. Some lessons are universal and the ones taught in The Meursault Investigation are instructive in the refugee/ immigration situation today. Woody Guthrie made that point powerfully in the song "All They Will Call You Will Be Deportees." 

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