‘Looking for “The Stranger,”’ the Making of an Existential Masterpiece

16book-1-master180John Williams at the New York Times:

In the closing days of World War II, the American publisher Alfred A. Knopf was pursuing English-language rights to Albert Camus’s novel “The Plague,” with its powerful and clear allegorical view of Nazism. With hesitation, he also acquired Camus’s first novel, “The Stranger,” which one reader at the company described as “pleasant, unexciting reading” that seemed “neither very important nor very memorable.”

The novel went on to become, by consensus, one of the most important and memorable books of the 20th century. Alice Kaplan, in the prologue to “Looking for ‘The Stranger,’” her new history of Camus’s profoundly influential debut, writes that critics have seen the novel variously as “a colonial allegory, an existential prayer book, an indictment of conventional morality, a study in alienation, or ‘a Hemingway rewrite of Kafka.’” This “critical commotion,” in Ms. Kaplan’s phrasing, “is one mark of a masterpiece.”

Ms. Kaplan sets out to tell “the story of exactly how Camus created this singular book.” It’s a story that unfolded against one of the most dramatic backdrops in history.

more here.