You can visit any Algerian bookshop, any book fair or any exposition about Algerian literature, surely you will find a numerous collection of Albert Camus’ works, representing the French language. However, his writings are written in French – as well as I myself did read them in French-, Camus’ every work is available in English in other countries’ bookshops or on the Internet.
Albert Camus was a part of an Algeria that doesn’t exist anymore; he was born in the French Algeria in which native inhabitants were oppressed, bullied and victimized.
Personally, I was shocked the first time I heard that one of the best sellers in Algeria is a French author from the French Algeria writing in French (in a context where Arabic and French are facing each other); in addition he is writing about such nonsense, absurd ideas that would never appear on an Islamic land.
So, I asked surprisedly: how come that Albert Camus’ novels such as The Stranger, The Happy Death and The Pest are so beloved in Algeria where his themes are tabus.
Camus as the prince of absurdism let me in an absurd situation even after his death. Coool!
Well.. to understand this contradictory situation, we need to look back to Camus’ historical and political background and deeds. At the end of the Second World War (1945) when the French power was about to eclipse and every colonized country cried out for freedom and independence, Albert Camus was a rebellious French journalist who faced the French oppressors and fought for equality. For this, he joined the Algerian People’s Party that followed the Algerian Communist Party, giving voice to the native Algerian, especially to the Kabylian. However, his ideology was rather anarchist, he was one of the first intellectual who handled the Algerian-French situation with respecting both sides.
So.. just as in a malicious deal, we -Algerians- closed our eyes on Camus’ atheist ideology due to his work that helped somehow our (Hamdullah) taken independence.
You scratch my back, I scratch it back.
How about his literature? Well, he’s one of my favorite novelists who writes short stories and essays at the same time. My bookshelf loves his absurdist and existentialist writing in which he focuses on the individual’s will in deciding about his life even if it leads him to die in an absurd situation.
My favorite novel from Camus is The Stranger (L’Étranger) in which he presents us Meursault (the protagonist) who gets sentenced to death for being unable to cry on his mother’s funeral. Hah! It sounds absurd, but yes. Meursault is a character who must meurtre-seult (he must die alone) why-because he is careless about every social norm, religious concept and nature’s rule. He is a stanger in the eyes of society as well as the most artists are seen as stranger for their open-minded, observing role, played in any society.
I would like to choose a quote from the Stranger that has a special interpretation for me:
“It is better to burn than to disappear.”
― Albert Camus,
In Algerian dialect, “to burn” is also used in social context as “He burnt himself before their friends.” = He did something extremely awkward.
In my interpretation, it means that “Tt is better doing something that is barely acceptable by people than doing nothing.”
Albert Camus says that he’s against nihilism that is the belief of ‘life has no intrinsic meaning or value’. He says that life does have meaning; precisely, it has individual meaning: So, live your life! Live YOUR life and not that life which is expected by the society that you should live…
Albert Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature (1957) “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times”.