Trip through Time / Revisiting Home of a 'Stranger' in Algiers: Albert Camus (1913-60) in Algiers

By Mitsui, Mina | The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), April 24, 2013 | Go to article overview

Trip through Time / Revisiting Home of a 'Stranger' in Algiers: Albert Camus (1913-60) in Algiers


Mitsui, Mina, The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)


ALGIERS--Spring in the city is capricious--after a stormy night the day brings clouds of dust and temperatures topping 20 C as a wave of cold weather from Europe does battle with the sand and heat of the Sahara.

This harsh environment, which can seem at times as though it were trying to ward off mankind, also gave birth to Albert Camus' literature of the absurd.

Camus' father, an immigrant French laborer in French Algeria, was killed in World War I. The young Camus was brought up by his mother, a cleaning lady who was hard of hearing, in the residential Belcourt district of Algiers. The family was poor.

Their white-walled apartment with blue bay windows remains much as it was when Camus was a boy, though a cell phone shop now occupies the first floor. When asked, the shop's young clerk says, "Camus? Who's that?"

Although the immigrants are gone and the former Rue de Lyon was given an Arabic name after Algeria gained its independence, the sweet aroma of fresh-baked bread still pervades the street. People here still eat croissants for breakfast.

"My 75-year-old brother told me Camus was well-mannered and would even say 'Bonjour' to Arabs," said Mohammed Mansour, the 49-year-old owner of a clothing store on the road, adding that he has not read any of the author's novels.

"He was one of the Frenchmen who oppressed us," Mansour said, making his dislike clear.

Camus, who was a member of the Communist Party, worked to improve the lives of Arabs, though he never shed his colonialist viewpoint.

In The Stranger, which is set in Algiers, we never learn the name of the Arab man killed by the main character Meursault, nor does his family appear. He is left as a blank slate.

Camus did not take a position on Algeria's war of independence (1954-62) and was criticized by fellow French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre for his rejection of revolutionary violence.

There was, however, one Camus fan to be found on the street. …

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