Camus & Algeria: The Moral Question

Claire Messud in the New York Review of Books:

Messud_1_110713_jpg_250x993_q85November 7 of this year marks Camus’s centenary. The artist and essayist—the author of L’Étranger (1942) and L’Homme révolté (1951)—has consistently held the reading public’s admiration and imagination. But his attitudes on the Algerian question—excoriated by his contemporaries on all sides, and subsequently by critics as diverse as Conor Cruise O’Brien and Edward Said—remain controversial.

The recent publication, for the first time in English, of 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. Ending two and a half years of public silence that followed his failed call for a civilian truce in Algiers in January 1956—a silence that became, according to Kaplan, “a metonymy for cowardice” but that my relatives would have recognized as agony—Algerian Chronicles was published in France in 1958 to “widespread critical silence.”

The lack of interest that greeted the book can be attributed in part to its publication fast upon the heels of Henri Alleg’s The Question, the vivid and disturbing autobiographical account of the author’s torture in the Barberousse prison in Algiers, an immediate best seller subsequently suppressed by the French authorities.

More here.