Algerian novelist and journalist Kamel Daoud gave a talk at the Whitney Humanities Center Monday afternoon, reflecting on his experience penning the critically acclaimed novel “The Meursault Investigation” and his journalistic endeavors during wartime.
Daoud, who publishes a political column entitled “Raïna raïkoum,” meaning “Our opinion is yours,” in the Algerian newspaper “Le Quotidien d’Oran,” is best known for his debut novel, “The Meursault Investigation,” which was published in 2013 and has received prestigious literary awards such as the Prix Goncourt. The lecture discussed his book, which can be read as a continuation of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.”
“Kamel Daoud’s visit to Yale couldn’t have come at a better time, as we are asking hard questions on campus about exactly what it means to be ‘othered,’” French professor Alice Kaplan GRD ’81 said. “That very question is at the core of his novel.”
The title of Daoud’s novel, “The Meursault Investigation,” alludes to the name of “The Stranger’s” protagonist, and has caused some to view the work as a counter-narrative to Camus’ novel, according to Imane Terhmina GRD ’20, a graduate student in French who attended the event. During the talk, however, Daoud stated that the book is not a response to Camus, but instead “at once a variation, continuation and a liberation from Camus.”
Additionally, the novel uses its author’s personal experience to emphasize Algeria’s role in the narrative as more than just a setting.
Despite infusing the novel with insights about Algeria gleaned from his career as a journalist, Daoud insisted, in an interview with the News, that for him the worlds of journalism and literature are mutually exclusive.
“In literature, I try to write about the human condition, and in my journalistic endeavors, I try to assert my political engagement,” he said. “They are two separate worlds.”
Like much of his reporting, Daoud’s novel has sparked backlash from a cleric who insisted he be tried for blasphemy, Daoud said. During a book tour in France, Daoud added, an imam said that the author should be put on trial for insulting Islam and publicly executed. As a consequence of expressing his political views, Daoud said he has had to be increasingly vigilant about his public life and the safety of his children, but he remains committed to writing about politics.
“I make an immense effort to write about these topics in the same way as I did before,” he explained. “I don’t want fear to change me.”
Daoud said he thinks the death threats he has received are indirect messages from “the regime,” attempting to make him leave Algeria. Regardless of the struggles he faces as a journalist, Daoud said he is unwilling to leave, noting that if he were to do so, his criticisms of the government would lose legitimacy.
In the interview, Daoud noted several differences he sees between journalism in Algeria and reporting conducted in areas with a more liberal press, like the United States.
“If you write about religion in the U.S, you’re not risking your life,” Daoud said. “If you talk about corruption here [in the U.S.], you won’t be killed. If you talk about female rights, you won’t be harassed like you would be in Algeria.”
“The Meursault Investigation” has been adapted for the stage, is currently being translated to more than 25 languages and will soon become a motion picture.