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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

A great idea for a story - and for a novel - Daoud's Musa in current New Yorker

A really interesting story in current New Yorker, Musa, by Kamel Daoud, an Algerian writers (writing in French), soon to have his first novel published - and clearly this story is an excerpt, most likely the first chapter, of his novel; if you read the authors' bio notes at the front of the issue before reading the articles in the NYer, you will not be surprised at all by the story - if not, it may take you a while to get it - so - spoiler alerts for some - this is a very cool idea for a story or novel, and I know there have been similar "takes" on major literary works, some more successful than others, some just living like a parasite off the qualities of their source - novels supposedly by Ahab's wife, by Rochester's wife (Wide Sargasso Sea?), and so forth - this one is particularly unusual in that it purports to be not by but about a literary character, and not a character with, to my memory, even a speaking role: it's about the unnamed Algerian native whom the French colonist Mersault shoots to death for no reason (cela m'est egal, as he repeatedly says) in L'Etranger (usually, The Stranger, though I think The Outside better captures the meaning). If you didn't get it the first time, go back and you'll see a # of references, even the use of the word "stranger" and a reference to the Myth of Sisyphus. Of course Daoud writes in French, so there has to be a postmodern element to this story, and there is: it's not exactly as if Daoud is imagining a different vector for Camus' tale, but rather he imagines what it would be like if your brother were killed not in life but in fiction: the narrator at several points references the fact that his brother's death occurs in a famous book: whereas The Stranger was not written as if it were an objective account of a killing but rather as a completely interior story. If a Mersault had actually killed an Algerian, there would most likely be no book. Daoud - a writer whom, if he becomes more famous, will be a blessing bestowed on crossword composers (like the Latin American writer Aira) - tells the story of the Algerian's death as felt and perceived by the family he left behind; the Algerian is the Musa of the title, and we experience the narrative from the POV of his much younger brother, who lives with his mother's obsession and increasing embitterment - eventually leaving Algiers for a remote rural setting, to get away from her memories. Daoud shows us a whole other side of the French-Algerian world, and conflict - a side of Algiers that some may recognize from Battle of Algiers, from a somewhat later era. Oddly, Camus, too, tried to capture the back streets and alleys of Algiers (in his posthumous notebooks), and Camus, though a colonist, clearly did not grow up in pampered wealth, but Daoud really gets at the impoverished, sometimes dangerous urban life of the colonized - we can see from this excerpt how the Battle of Algiers emerged and why it was necessary.

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