Kamel Daoud Wins Five Continents Prize for Novel that ‘Re-writes Camus’

The “Five Continents” prize for Francophone writing goes to Algerian debut novelist Kamel Daoud for his 2013 novel Meursault, contre-enquête (Mersault, the counter-enquiry) organizers said Monday:

Couvok-thumb-300x240-54975The book’s titular “Meursault” is the narrator of Albert Camus’s The Stranger (1942). But Daoud’s novel focuses not on Meursault, but on the brother of “the Arab” Meursault killed.

The Five Continents jury was chaired this year by French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. In a statement, Le Clézio said they wished to reward “a novel which questions our blindness both throughout history and today and examines the issue of justice and otherness once the terror of colonialism has abated.”

According to Words Without Borders reviewer Suzanne Ruta:

In 2010 a French reporter, in Oran to research Camus’ connection with the town, irritated Daoud by raising the tired question of whether Camus belongs to France or Algeria. “He’s not a leg of lamb to be cut in half,” Daoud complained in a recent interview. He went home and wrote a riff on L’Étranger, in the voice of the imagined younger brother of the unnamed “Arabe” shot five times by Meursault on that fateful Algiers beach in 1942. And realized he was on to something. What started as a chronique wound up filling an entire book.

“Of all the many tributes paid Camus in his 2013 centenary,” Ruta wrote, “this may be the most intimate, heartfelt, and enlightening.”

Ruta translated a brief excerpt from the novel, which begins:

It’s simple, this story should be rewritten, in the same language, but from right to left. That is to say, beginning with the body, still alive, the narrow streets that led him to his end, the Arab’s given name, up until his encounter with the bullet. I learned this language, in part, to tell this story on behalf of my brother, the friend of the sun. Does that seem improbable to you? You’re wrong. I had to find the answer no one was ever willing to give me when I needed it. You drink a language, you speak it, and one day it takes possession of you; from then on, it gets used to making choices for you, it grabs your mouth the way a couple does in a voracious kiss. I knew someone who learned to write French because one day his illiterate father received a telegram that no one could decipher—this was in the era of your hero and the colonials.   The telegram rotted in his pocket for a week, until someone read it to him. It announced, in three lines, the death of his mother, somewhere in the treeless depths of the country.

Daoud’s book was also the surprise addition on both the Goncourt and Renaudot longlists, as well as being a best-seller and critically acclaimed. According to Le Figaro, the book has been “an unusual triumph,” especially for a novel first published not in Paris, but in Algeirs. Meursault, contre-enquête was published by Algeria’s Barzakh Editions in 2013 and France’s Actes Sud in 2014.

The Goncourt’s and Renaudot shortlists will both come out on October 7.

Born in 1970 in Mostaganem, Daoud studied French literature after a degree in mathematics. He is a journalist at Le Quotidien d’Oran and the author of many stories, some of which were collected in the book The 504 Minotaur (Sabine Wespieser editor, 2011), originally published in Algiers under the title The Preface of the Negro (Barzakh Editions, 2008). He won the Mohammed Dib prize for the best collection of short stories in 2008.

This was Daoud’s first novel.

The Five Continents prize was set up in 2001 to give more international recognition to the wide variety of literature being written in the French language. Daoud will collect the “Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie” in Dakar in November, during the Francophonie summit.

English-language publishers interested in the novel:

Ruta’s review and excerpt.