Algerian Chronicles

Overview

More than fifty years after Algerian independence, Albert Camus’ Algerian Chronicles appears here in English for the first time. Published in France in 1958, the same year the Algerian War brought about the collapse of the Fourth French Republic, it is one of Camus’ most political works—an exploration of his commitments to Algeria. Dismissed or disdained at publication, today Algerian Chronicles, with its prescient analysis of the dead end of terrorism, enjoys a new life in Arthur Goldhammer’s elegant ...

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Overview

More than fifty years after Algerian independence, Albert Camus’ Algerian Chronicles appears here in English for the first time. Published in France in 1958, the same year the Algerian War brought about the collapse of the Fourth French Republic, it is one of Camus’ most political works—an exploration of his commitments to Algeria. Dismissed or disdained at publication, today Algerian Chronicles, with its prescient analysis of the dead end of terrorism, enjoys a new life in Arthur Goldhammer’s elegant translation.

“Believe me when I tell you that Algeria is where I hurt at this moment,” Camus, who was the most visible symbol of France’s troubled relationship with Algeria, writes, “as others feel pain in their lungs.” Gathered here are Camus’ strongest statements on Algeria from the 1930s through the 1950s, revised and supplemented by the author for publication in book form.

In her introduction, Alice Kaplan illuminates the dilemma faced by Camus: he was committed to the defense of those who suffered colonial injustices, yet was unable to support Algerian national sovereignty apart from France. An appendix of lesser-known texts that did not appear in the French edition complements the picture of a moralist who posed questions about violence and counter-violence, national identity, terrorism, and justice that continue to illuminate our contemporary world.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Susan Rubin Suleiman
Great writer that he was, Camus placed hope in the calming power of language carefully used, and of reason; in the preface, he asks his readers to "set their ideological reflexes aside for a moment and just think." And that, of course, is the best reason for reading these articles today. Algeria never did become the peaceful federation Camus dreamed of, where pieds noirs and Arabs, Berbers and Jews lived together. As [Alice] Kaplan points out [in her introduction], we cannot know how he would have reacted to the final years of the war, or to the independence that followed. We do know that his ethical positions are still meaningful, worldwide.
Publishers Weekly
★ 02/18/2013
The “Algerian-born Frenchman,” Camus (1913–1960), author of The Stranger and winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature, struggled with the concept and conflicts of colonialism. This first English translation of his Chroniques Algériennes (1958) proves parochial and universal, timely and timeless. From the observation of despair in his data-specked reportage of the 1939 famine in Kabylia, Camus’s tone mirrors the suffering he witnessed. The places are often particular and unfamiliar; the conditions are often not (“Too many people and not enough grain”). Nor does one have to work hard to update insights such as “Not all the French in Algeria are bloodthirsty brutes, and not all the Arabs are fanatical mass killers.” Programmatic at times and fixed historically in the French-Algerian war—replete with its particular repression and violence, massacre and torture—the impassioned, politically committed Camus addresses issues that feel as current today as they did more than 50 years ago. “When one looks at the recent disturbances in North Africa, it is wise to avoid two extremes,” he urged in 1945. While addressing hostile questions during a 1957 news conference, a reporter noted, “In the end, Camus managed to make himself heard, not without difficulty.” He should still be heard today. (May)
Times Literary Supplement - Robert Zaretsky
[A] brilliant translation…Camus fell silent after this effort, but for one exception. In 1958, while the ‘sale guerre’ in his native country grew ever more dirty, he returned to his first trade, journalism. Gathering his newspaper articles and commentaries on Algeria, he published them under the title Actuelles III. In his preface, he lambasts France’s colonial policy, castigates the use of torture and terrorism by both sides, and defends innocent French and Arabs at the mercy of these violent designs. Yet, he concludes, his book ‘is among other things a history of a failure.’ But noble failures like the Algerian Chronicles are both timeless and timely.
New Criterion - Micah Mattix
History has proven Camus right when he warned in 1955 that those who support terror and call for massacres, ‘no matter which camp they come from and no matter what argument or folly drives them, are in fact calling for their own destruction.’ A lesson the world, alas, has still not learned.
The Daily Beast - Adam Kirsch
Camus’s liberal admirers saw his insistence on a peaceful resolution to the [Algerian struggle for independence], his condemnation of violence on both sides, as further proof of his moral integrity. Meanwhile, his leftist critics saw his moderation as a species of evasion, condemning his failure to come down clearly on the side of Algerian liberation. Today, when North Africa is once again the scene of revolutionary violence and the relations between the West and its former Arab colonies remain dangerously fraught, the debate about Camus and Algeria still resonates.
New York Review of Books - Claire Messud
Camus’s Algerian Chronicles, edited and introduced by Alice Kaplan and beautifully translated by Arthur Goldhammer, affords Camus the belated opportunity to make his own case to the Anglophone public. This book, in slightly different form, proved his final public word on the Algerian question when it was originally published in June 1958…To witness the progression of his responses is to recognize above all the remarkable consistency of Camus’s moral conviction, the dogged optimism of his outlook, and his unfailing ability, even in the complex turmoil of emotional involvement with the issue, to cleave to his own principles of justice…It was this moral lucidity that had provoked Camus’s disenchantment with communism and underpinned his ardent opposition to the death penalty, a stance that prompted him to speak out, at different times, to save the lives of Nazi collaborators and FLN terrorists alike…Camus’s honesty and consistency retain, in retrospect, a moral purity that few others could claim.
Commonweal - Gerald J. Rusello
Camus’ writing is shot through with appeals to the moral sense of his audience. And it is his own moral sense that makes the occasional writing collected here still so readable…After years of neglect and rejection, Camus is being rediscovered in Algeria. In the 1990s, Algeria endured another decade of bloody civil strife, this time between the Algerian army and Islamic insurgents. The questions Camus raised about common guilt, forgiveness, justice, and who is a true Algerian have been recognized as relevant once more.
The Independent - Boyd Tonkin
Magnificently eloquent and courageous…Even today, admirers of Camus sometimes worry that his radiant bravery and integrity were compromised by a colonial kid’s blind spot when it came to Arab Algerians. The Chronicles--authoritatively edited by Alice Kaplan--should quell that doubt forever. From meticulous reports on poverty and prejudice in 1930s Kabylia to the great speech in Algiers in 1956, when right-wing thugs shouted down his heartfelt call for a civilian truce, every page speaks of his honesty, his compassion, his empathy.
Irish Times - Philip Dine
Camus’s tortured words may profitably be reconsidered half a century later, with the benefit of hindsight as regards Algeria’s traumatic accession to independence, which included the mass exodus of the territory’s settler population. Algeria’s history since 1962, and particularly the ‘black decade’ of civil war in the 1990s between the military-backed government and Islamist rebels, also casts new light on these texts, underscoring their contemporary relevance. Camus’s alternately angry and anguished engagement is made readily accessible to an English-speaking audience in Arthur Goldhammer’s sensitive rendering…As the Franco-Algerian memory wars continue to rage--significantly, the French state acknowledged that the 1954-62 ‘events’ had been a war only in 1999--this new translation offers a welcome opportunity to engage with the political soul-searching of a major figure who, as the American historian James Le Sueur has argued, may have been wrong about Algeria but may also have been right to be wrong.
Wall Street Journal - James Campbell
Algerian Chronicles is a collection of journalistic writings published in 1958, when the crisis in Algeria posed a persistent threat to the government of France. It was to be Camus's final book and appears in retrospect as a summing-up of his feelings about his birthplace...These remarkably mature dispatches, written when he was 25, show that Camus was anxious from the start about the political relationship between his native country and the mainland...The impetus behind the repeated pleas for constructive dialogue that occupy the later parts of Algerian Chronicles was personal as much as political...Algerian Chronicles, never before translated in its entirety, is a document worth having.
New York Times Book Review - Susan Rubin Suleiman

It was the last book Camus published in his lifetime, and it appears now in its entirety for the first time in English, expertly translated by Arthur Goldhammer. The editor, Alice Kaplan, has added six texts to Camus's original selection in an appendix, to further illuminate Camus's relation to Algeria... As the writings in Algerian Chronicles

make clear, Camus's position in 'no man's land' left him increasingly isolated: hated

by the right for his condemnation of government policies, scorned by the left for his inability to imagine an independent Algeria from which the French would be absent...As Kaplan points out, we cannot know how he would have reacted to the final years of the war, or to the independence that followed. We do know that his ethical positions are

still meaningful, worldwide.

Financial Times - Tobias Grey
The last time [Camus] had spoken out on Algeria had been in January 1956 on a visit to Algiers, when he had called for a civilian truce between French colonialists and the Arab-dominated National Liberation Front (FLN). For his trouble he received death threats from the colonialists and scornful rejection by the FLN. At the risk of being labeled a coward, Camus decided to keep his peace. This silence lasted until 1958 when he published Actuelles III, a selection of essays and articles outlining his position on Algeria. Some of these writings were translated into English for Resistance, Rebellion and Death (1960) but others, such as his early forays into journalism for the anti-colonialist newspaper Alger Républicain, appear for the first time in this new translation of the 1958 collection. Algerian Chronicles also includes two letters that Camus wrote to French president René Coty in 1957 beseeching him to pardon several captured FLN members. That Camus should have been working behind the scenes to save the separatists whose violence he so abhorred speaks volumes about this complex man.
Australian Book Review - Colin Nettlebeck
Despite his lucidity and his avowed anti-colonialism, Camus during his lifetime failed to accept that Algeria should or could be permanently separated from France; and, as Kaplan rightly points out, his premature death in 1960 means that we can never know how he would have reacted to the agreements enacting that separation...At the same time, as a record of passionate insights into the processes involved, the book still makes absorbing reading, not least because of the many portentous analogies between what happened in Algeria and what is happening in much of our world today... Algerian Chronicles is infused with bitter-sweet nostalgia for a personal lost paradise, a not infrequent ingredient of Camus's writing generally. But the book transmits a wider angry grief in its demonstration that the most humane and reasoned ideals seldom work to diminish the destructive and self-mutilating brutalities that humanity, endlessly, inflicts on itself. Camus has been well served here by Arthur Goldhammer, who is probably the most gifted living translator into English of French texts. Goldhammer, in his translator's note, describes the challenges of capturing the purity, restraint, and discipline of Camus's prose; and he expresses the hope that his work has done justice to what he calls 'a precious document of a soul's torment lived in real rather than eternal time.' He need not have worried: the author's voice resounds with eerie clarity.
Literary Review - Andrew Hussey
The singular importance of Algerian Chronicles is that it brings together for the first time in English all of Camus's writings on Algeria, ranging over his early journalism covering the famine in Kabyle in 1939 to his appeals for reason and justice in Algeria in 1958. Beautifully translated by Arthur Goldhammer, they reveal Camus not so much as a philosopher (or 'ponderous metaphysician' as Said called him) but as something like a French George Orwell. Certainly, in all these essays he demonstrates a most un-Parisian aversion to abstraction and a taste for the concrete detail that reveals the reality of a situation...There is a new generation of readers in Algeria who are beginning to understand how [Camus] felt: torn between opposing forms of terror, neither of which promised justice or redemption. Algerian Chronicles is a beautiful and significant illustration of the complexities of that dilemma.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel - Phillip C. Naylor
Essentially, Algerian Chronicles surveys the making of a metaphysical rebel, Camus himself. In his world, like ours, riven by mindless extremism and terrorism, he sought moderation, toleration and humanity. He is being reread today, without post-colonial prejudice, as a means to engage our comparable metaphysical condition. 'The role of the intellectual is to seek by his own lights to make out the respective limits of force and justice in each camp,' he contended in 1958. 'It is to explain the meaning of words in such a way as to sober minds and calm fanaticisms, even if this means working against the grain.' Algerian Chronicles reminds that Camus accepted that lonely, singular role with inspiring courage and commitment.
NPR Books - Jason Farago
Camus was a far more engaged writer than his critics have allowed, and the essays, columns and speeches collected here make a strong case for his continued relevance...Today, although his failure to support full independence for Algeria seems off the mark, Camus stands as a powerful voice against violence and extremism, and the very late appearance of these essays in English could not have come at a better time...With the future of the Arab spring uncertain and with terrorism back on the front page, these Algerian Chronicles are not only history. They're also guides for how to be just in a difficult world.
The Australian - Miriam Cosic
Algerian Chronicles...has been invisibly translated by Arthur Goldhammer and prefaced perceptively by Alice Kaplan...All [the essays] are a model of engaged journalism: scrupulous and exhaustive in the facts, telling in colorful anecdote, reasoned in argument, with no hint of sarcasm or anger. Apart from their historical interest, Camus's essays show us two things. One is it is possible to be politically engaged without foaming at the mouth. The other is the more things change in what historian Ian Morris calls 'the arc of instability,' from central Africa to Pakistan, the more they stay the same. Further, they remind us that a great deal of the horror going on there today is the legacy of 19th-century European colonialism and superpower maneuvering in the Cold War...Through all these bloody convulsions and those of the wider region, Camus's central call--to spare the lives of noncombatants--echoes still...After Iraq, after Syria, after the still unexplained suspension of international law in deadly American drone strikes, after the constant bombing of marketplaces and mosques now that asymmetrical war has made obsolete the Geneva Conventions, Camus's voice seems naively idealistic. The world needs that kind of naivete more than ever.
Boston Globe - Richard Eder
Camus's Algerian political pieces, collected and published in 1956, have now been lucidly translated by Arthur Goldhammer and edited along with some additional material by Yale's Alice Kaplan. Their appearance in France was met by something worse than attack: virtual indifference. The bloodshed had gone on too long; proposals for compromise, integration, and a sharing of power were well past their sell-by date. History is less reasonable than words and can move faster; Camus's words, sensible and moving, were left behind; he arrived at the station after the train had left...He unhesitatingly denounced the harshly unjust treatment of the Muslim majority; its exclusion from political power, its economic exploitation, the fact, for instance, that its wartime food ration was inferior to that of the settlers. He forcefully called for equitable economic partnership between the two populations, equal rights, and a shared political role.
The Scotsman - Michael Kerrigan
In his own lifetime, [Camus] was criticized for keeping quiet as his Algerian homeland slipped into crisis; then, when in 1958 he published this eloquent and passionate plea for understanding, the hush from the reviewers was deafening...As one of over a million pieds noirs himself, he was better placed than any of his comrades on the French Left to appreciate the inadequacy of the opposition they drew between cruel colonialists and a suffering Arab mass. 'Day after day,' he says, 'these simplifications prove, in a sort of reductio absurdum, that in Algeria the French and the Arabs are condemned either to live together or to die together.' Whether he was ultimately right is open to question: he certainly paid a high price for his nuanced view of the situation.
Sunday Herald - Brian Morton
[Camus's] writing about Algeria confounds the persistent accusation that he was a metropolitan Frenchman...Some of his finest writing is here.
Barnes & Noble Review - Troy Jollimore
[Algerian Chronicles] has not, for the most part, been regarded as one of Camus's 'important' works...This is, perhaps, an oversight. At a historical moment when it seems crucial to the human prospect to think intelligently about terrorism and other forms of political violence, the thinking Camus does in Algerian Chronicles may strike us, if we open ourselves to it, as necessary, cogent, and sane...What is clear from Algerian Chronicles is that Camus's compassion could be triggered by the suffering of any human being, and that his political and moral concern was with any innocent person who might be made the victim of violence in the name of any political cause...Algerian Chronicles may have suffered the fate of being published at a time when those who most needed to hear what it had to say were entirely unable to read it with an open mind. It is possible that, now that some decades have passed, it will find a second life. We Americans would be well advised to pay it serious attention. After more than a decade in which the United States has chosen to respond to the specter of lawless terrorism with forms of violence some have regarded as state-sanctioned terrorism--years during which, as in the Algerian war, the violence inflicted by each side has been used to justify the violence inflicted by the other, and during which the use of torture by American military and security forces has been not only condoned but applauded by a large segment of the American citizenry--Camus's reflections on these subjects seem to address us directly.
Boston Review - Vivian Gornick
Algerian Chronicles...comprises everything Camus wrote on Algeria...Camus's writing on Kabylia is a marvel of eloquence. His sympathy for the people, his critique of the colonial regime, his pain over the injustices that he witnesses--all thrilling. Seventy years after he wrote these pieces the reader is still penetrated by their literary beauty. But at no time in Algerian Chronicles are we listening to the speaking voice of a revolutionary. It is the voice of a despairing citizen who does not want his country's government overthrown; he wants it to do better by its people. He wants France to remain in Algeria, but to honor its own founding myths of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The pieces in Algerian Chronicles that were written years later in France, during the war for independence, are repetitive pleas for each side to stop demonizing the other, for human decency to prevail.
Wichita Eagle - Arlice Davenport
Read today, the articles brim with [Camus's] trademark Mediterranean passion, the sensibility that lent all his literary works their moral and lyrical depth...Prove[s] indispensable to a fuller understanding of the intellectual history of 20th-century Europe.
New Republic - Paul Berman
Among the French writers, not too many people in those days, back in the 1930s, appeared to care one way or another about Algeria and its poverty. You could read about the erotic and exotic dream-life of André Gide, but not about injustice. Camus was a pioneer.
Kirkus Reviews
In a manner less literary than journalistic but more personal than political, the Nobel Prize–winning existentialist argues for a liberal middle ground between French imperialism and the independence of his native Algeria. More than a half-century after the Algerian War and the independence that Camus ambivalently resisted, the first English translation of his volume of writings on the period (a book largely ignored or disdained upon its initial French publication) is less interesting today for the specifics of the polarized tension there than for its timeless musings on torture, terror, assimilation and extremism. The anti-independence French accused the Algerian Muslims of savagery. Those who were pro-revolution believed that there was no room for the colonial occupiers in an independent Algeria. As a French liberal who considered himself a moderate between those extremes, Camus had boundless sympathy for the plight of impoverished Algerians, yet he felt that independent rule by a Muslim majority would be a catastrophe for those (like himself) who were French but had deep roots in Algeria. Ultimately, his writing represents a moral plea for an idealism beyond politics. He maintains: "We are condemned to live together." "It is as if madmen inflamed by rage found themselves locked in a forced marriage from which no exit was possible and therefore decided on mutual suicide." He also insists that regardless of how "old and deep the roots of the Algerian tragedy are, one fact remains: no cause justifies the deaths of innocent people." However his words were received at the time and the crisis he addressed resolved itself, his thoughts on ends justifying means and on civilian casualties for some political purpose seem prophetic. A political footnote to a literary legacy.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Albert Camus's Algerian Chronicles appeared in 1957, at the height of French turmoil over the rebellious and violent Algerian independence movement. At the time the book received little notice in France, and with the exception of some of the individual essays, this translation by Arthur Goldhammer represents its first appearance in English. It has not, for the most part, been regarded as one of Camus's "important" works, a list that would include novels such as The Stranger, The Plague, or The Fall and philosophical works such as The Myth of Sisyphus. This is, perhaps, an oversight. At a historical moment when it seems crucial to the human prospect to think intelligently about terrorism and other forms of political violence, the thinking Camus does in Algerian Chronicles may strike us, if we open ourselves to it, as necessary, cogent, and sane.

At the time of its publication the book left many not only unconvinced but unhappy. Looking back from the perspective of 1969, Conor Cruise O'Brien expressed the view of many on the Left when he called it "a depressing volume." O'Brien thought Algerian Chronicles represented the moral failure of a writer and moralist he had had high hopes for and wanted deeply to admire. Like Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and many others, O'Brien blamed Camus for failing to support the revolutionaries who had fought for Algeria's independence — an independence that, to the surprise of many, had been granted in 1962. Camus did not live to see this happen. He had been killed in a car accident in 1960, three years after receiving the Nobel Prize for literature. Nor, mercifully, did he live to witness the ongoing internecine violence that continued to plague Algeria for decades after independence, most brutally during the 1990s, when over 100,000 people died in a chaotic period of guerrilla fighting and factional massacres of civilians. Perhaps O'Brien's assessment would have been different if he had foreseen this slaughter. If nothing else it confirmed that, even if some of Camus's reasons for insisting that Algeria must remain part of France could be called in question, he was at the very least correct to insist that independence would be anything but a cure-all for that troubled former colony.

Camus was born in Algeria to a family of French pied-noirs, descendants of the original European colonizers of Algeria. Relations between the pied-noirs and Algeria's majority Arab population were tense, largely due to French economic policies that had exacerbated and in some cases created the inhuman poverty under which many of the Arabs existed — a poverty that is described in moving detail the first section of Algerian Chronicles, "The Misery of Kabylia," which was written during the 1930s, when, as Camus said later, "almost no one in France was interested in" Algeria. This set of essays, and much of the writing elsewhere in the book, is more than sufficient to show that those who view Camus as a former pied-noir who cared only about the fate of that group were simply mistaken.

Indeed, Algerian Chronicles gives ample evidence that Camus felt genuine outrage and deep compassion about the suffering of Algeria's Arab and Berber populations, and for every statement that makes him sound like an apologist for France (and such statements are, admittedly, present) there are several that take the French government to task for its wrongdoings and demand that it radically alter its policies. He was particularly outspoken regarding French military attacks on civilian populations and also regarding the widespread use of torture, both of which he viewed as absolutely unjustifiable. Indeed, many in France called Camus a traitor on account of his sympathy with the Algerian Arabs. When he returned to Algeria in 1956 to speak against the killing of civilians at a public meeting — after having been forced to leave for having been so outspoken in his criticism of French authority there — a mob of French "ultracolonialists" gathered outside the meeting and angrily chanted "Death to Camus." The text of that speech is included in this volume as "Call for a Civilian Truce in Algeria.")

But the main movement in favor of Algerian independence, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), was equally guilty of human rights violations. They too sometimes used torture, and they too committed acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. Camus's family, who still lived in Algeria, were among the potential targets of these terrorist acts, and some of the rebels accused him of a kind of self-interest in denouncing the terrorists; but what is clear from Algerian Chronicles is that Camus's compassion could be triggered by the suffering of any human being, and that his political and moral concern was with any innocent person who might be made the victim of violence in the name of any political cause. Indeed, his unhappiness with the evident disregard for human rights on both sides in the Algerian conflict sent him into a long period of silence, during which he said he nothing out of fear that whatever he might say would be used as ammunition by one side or the other:

When the fate of men and women who share one's own blood is linked directly or indirectly to articles that one writes so effortlessly in the comfort of one's study, then one has a duty to weigh the pros and cons before taking up one's pen. For my own part, while I remain sensitive to the risk that, in criticizing the course of the rebellion, I give aid and comfort to the most insolent instigators of the Algerian tragedy, I am also afraid that, by retracing the long history of French errors, I am, with no risk to myself, supplying alibis to the criminal madmen who would toss grenades into crowds of innocent people who happen to be my kin.
Instead he tried to maintain a sensible middle position, breaking his silence occasionally to call on both sides to stop violating the rights of the innocent and to declare a "civilian truce" that would have protected all noncombatants from being made targets of violence.

The civilian truce was seen only as a first step, but Camus was probably right that it was a necessary first step. Neither side, though, was interested in implementing it: each used the misdeeds of the other to justify their own. Camus's sane and compassionate position, meanwhile, seemed to satisfy no one. The extremists on each side saw Camus as having aligned himself with their enemies (that is how extremists, after all, tend to see moderates). Or else they saw him as having chosen no side at all — or having tried to have it both ways — and so accused him of indecisiveness, cowardice, or naïve idealism.

Algerian Chronicles may have suffered the fate of being published at a time when those who most needed to hear what it had to say were entirely unable to read it with an open mind. It is possible that, now that some decades have passed, it will find a second life. We Americans would be well advised to pay it serious attention. After more than a decade in which the United States has chosen to respond to the specter of lawless terrorism with forms of violence some have regarded as state-sanctioned terrorism — years during which, as in the Algerian war, the violence inflicted by each side has been used to justify the violence inflicted by the other, and during which the use of torture by American military and security forces has been not only condoned but applauded by a large segment of the American citizenry — Camus's reflections on these subjects seem to address us directly :
The reprisals against the civilian population of Algeria and the use of torture against the rebels are crimes for which we all bear a share of responsibility. That we have been able to do such things is a humiliating reality that we must henceforth face. Meanwhile, we must refuse to justify these methods on any grounds whatsoever, including effectiveness. Once one begins to justify them, even indirectly, no rules or values remain.
If nothing else, Algerian Chronicles brings us closer to Camus the man. Like Camus's other posthumously published writings — the unfinished novel The First Man in particular — it helps to remind us that the question of Algeria loomed in Camus's mind long before it seized the attention of France as a whole and that it first appeared there not as a political question, nor even as a question of identity (assuming that those two can be meaningfully distinguished), but as a sensual reality, a place whose sounds, smells, and landscapes remained with Camus throughout his life. Camus's feeling of doubleness and isolation, his sense of being a "stranger" in French society, stem from the dual reality of being both French and Algerian, a duality that would have been difficult to reconcile even if he had not lived during a time when the communities in which these identities were grounded were in such prolonged and violent contention with each other.

"For Algeria," he once wrote, "I have unbridled passion and I surrender to the pleasure of loving: Can one love a country like a woman?" But Algeria was, for Camus, not only the beloved and elusive Other. It was an aspect of the self, not only mentally and emotionally but physically, so that he felt, quite literally, that the struggles that were taking place there were tearing him apart. "Believe me," he wrote to a friend during these years, "when I tell you that Algeria is where I hurt at this moment, as other feel pain in their lungs."

Troy Jollimore is Associate Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Chico. His most recent books are Love's Vision and At Lake Scugog: Poems, both from Princeton University Press.

Reviewer: Troy Jollimore

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674072589
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 5/6/2013
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 262,971
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Albert Camus (1913-1960), Algerian-French novelist, essayist, and playwright, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

Alice Kaplan is John M. Musser Professor of French and chair of the Department of French at Yale University.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Fourteen: Letter to an Algerian Militant


My dear Kessous,

I found your letters upon returning from my vacation, and I am afraid that my approval will arrive very late. Yet I need to let you know how I feel. Believe me when I tell you that Algeria is where I hurt at this moment, as others feel pain in their lungs. And since August 20 I have been on the edge of despair.

Only a person who knows nothing of the human heart can think that the French of Algeria can now forget the massacres in Philippeville. Conversely, only a madman can believe that repression, once unleashed, can induce the Arab masses to trust and respect France. So we now find ourselves pitted against one another, with each side determined to inflict as much pain as possible on the other, inexpiably. This thought is unbearable to me, and it poisons my days.

And yet you and I, who are so alike, who share the same culture and the same hopes, who have been brothers for so long, joined in the love we both feel for our country, know that we are not enemies. We know that we could live happily together on this land, which is our land—because it is ours, and because I can no more imagine it without you and your brothers than you can separate it from me and my kind.

You said it very well, better than I will say it: we are condemned to live together. The French of Algeria—who, I thank you for pointing out, are not all wealthy bloodsuckers—have been in Algeria more than a century and number more than a million. That alone is enough to distinguish the Algerian problem from the problems of Tunisia and Morocco, where the French settlement is relatively small and recent. The “French reality” can never be eliminated from Algeria, and the dream that the French will suddenly disappear is childish. By the same token, there is no reason why nine million Arabs should be forgotten on their own soil. The dream that the Arabs can be forever negated, silenced, and subjugated is equally insane. The French are attached to Algerian soil by roots too old and deep to think of tearing them up. But this does not give the French the right to cut the roots of Arab life and culture. All my life, I have defended the idea that our country stands in need of far-reaching reform (and as you well know, I paid the price in the form of exile). No one believed me, and people continued to pursue the dream of power, which always believes that it is eternal and always forgets that history does not stop. Today reform is more necessary than ever. Your proposals would constitute an indispensable first step and should be implemented without delay, provided they are not drowned beforehand in either French or Arab blood.

But I know from experience that to say these things today is to venture into a no-man’s-land between hostile armies. It is to preach the folly of war as bullets fly. Bloodshed may sometimes lead to progress, but more often it brings only greater barbarity and misery. He who pours his heart into such a plea can expect only laughter and the din of the battlefield in reply. And yet someone must say these things, and since you propose to try, I cannot let you take such an insane and necessary step without standing with you in fraternal solidarity.

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