THE MEURSAULT INVESTIGATION

Kamel Daoud & John Cullen

He was the brother of “the Arab” killed by the infamous Meursault, the antihero of Camus’s classic novel. Seventy years after that event, Harun, who has lived since childhood in the shadow of his sibling’s memory, refuses to let him remain anonymous: he gives his brother a story and a name—Musa—and describes the events that led to Musa’s casual murder on a dazzlingly sunny beach.

In a bar in Oran, night after night, he ruminates on his solitude, on his broken heart, on his anger with men desperate for a god, and on his disarray when faced with a country that has so disappointed him.

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He was the brother of “the Arab” killed by the infamous Meursault, the antihero of Camus’s classic novel. Seventy years after that event, Harun, who has lived since childhood in the shadow of his sibling’s memory, refuses to let him remain anonymous: he gives his brother a story and a name—Musa—and describes the events that led to Musa’s casual murder on a dazzlingly sunny beach.

In a bar in Oran, night after night, he ruminates on his solitude, on his broken heart, on his anger with men desperate for a god, and on his disarray when faced with a country that has so disappointed him. A stranger among his own people, he wants to be granted, finally, the right to die.

The Stranger is of course central to Daoud’s story, in which he both endorses and criticizes one of the most famous novels in the world. A worthy complement to its great predecessor, The Meursault Investigation is not only a profound meditation on Arab identity and the disastrous effects of colonialism in Algeria, but also a stunning work of literature in its own right, told in a unique and affecting voice.

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  • Other Press
  • Paperback
  • June 2015
  • 143 Pages
  • 9781590517512

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$14.95

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About Kamel Daoud & John Cullen

Kamel Daoud is an Algerian journalist based in Oran. A finalist for the Prix Goncourt, The Meursault Investigation won the Goncourt Prize for First Novel, the Prix François Mauriac, and the Prix des Cinq-Continents de la francophonie. A feature film is slated for release in 2017.

Praise

“A tour-de-force reimagining of Camus’s The Stranger, from the point of view of the mute Arab victims.” —The New Yorker

“[A] rich and inventive new novel…so convincing and so satisfying that we no longer think of the original story as the truth, but rather come to question it.” —The New York Times Book Review

The Meursault Investigation is an instant classic.” —The Guardian (UK)

“Nothing…prepared me for [Daoud’s] first novel, The Meursault Investigation, a thrilling retelling of Albert Camus’s 1942 classic, The Stranger, from the perspective of the brother of the Arab killed by Meursault, Camus’s antihero. The novel…not only breathes new life into The Stranger; it also offers a bracing critique of postcolonial Algeria… The premise is ingenious: that The Stranger, about the murder of an unnamed Arab on an Algiers beach, was a true story…Meursault is less a critique of The Stranger than its postcolonial sequel.” —The New York Times Magazine

Discussion Questions

Describe the relationship that emerges between Harun and his mother after Musa’s murder. Is it comparable to how Musa describes the power organized religion holds over the imaginations of his countrymen? (See “She seemed to resent me for a death I basically refused to undergo…Maman knew the art of making ghosts live and, conversely, was very good at annihilating her close relatives” pp 36–37; “My body, therefore, became the visible trace of her dead son, and I ended up obeying her unspoken injunction” p. 41; “[The imam] wasn’t even sure he was alive, because he was living like a dead man” p 141.)

Why does Musa learn French? What does he appreciate about French and the way Camus/Meursault uses it that he does not find in how Maman uses language? In the story, Maman holds an enormous amount of power over Harun. When he learns to read and write in French, does that power dynamic change?

Harun says, “What hurts me every time I think about it is that [Meursault] killed [Musa] by passing over him, not by shooting him” (p 5). Describe the power that Meursault’s account of his murder, as opposed to the murder itself, has on Harun’s family and the course of his life.

One of Harun’s criticisms of his mother is how her language is “not too big on precision” (p 37). What else is Maman imprecise about, and how does her imprecision shape Harun’s life?

Harun explains that because of the popularity of Meursault’s account, his brother Musa “over and over again . . . replays his own death” (p 3). What else recurs in the novel? In the end, is this cycle of recurrence something that can be broken?

Meriem is one of the many characters in the novel who “disappears,” yet Harun never refers to her as such. Why do you think that is?

Does The Meursault Investigation have a Musa of its own—a character or characters who are afforded nothing more than anonymity? Does this anonymity have the same violence as the anonymity of “the Arab” in The Stranger?