Algerian writer and journalist Kamel Daoud's debut novel Meursault, Contre-Enquete (The Meursault Investigation) won the Goncourt Prize (the most prestigious French literary award) for a first novel in May, and several other important awards.
He has arrived in Ha Noi to present his book in Vietnamese.
He talks with Bach Lien about the novel.
What subjects does your novel talk about?
My book is inspired by the French masterpiece L'Etranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus. In Camus' book, the hero is a French man named Meursault. On a hot summer day at the seaside, he killed an unknown Arab man without a reason. Meursault was condemned to death after, not because he killed a person, but because he was totally indifferent to the death of his mother. Seventy years after this masterpiece was published, Meursault still inspires readers, but no one remembers the anonymous Arab man who was killed in the novel.
In my book, I write about this crime committed by Meursault, but the narrator is the victim's brother. I imagined that the victim had a brother who retold the story to the public.
Why did you want to write this book?
For 15 years, I edited the French language daily Le quotidien d'Oran, where I contributed a popular critique or tart commentary on the news under the title My Opinion, Your Opinion. Every day, I wrote a story on a different theme. One day, I wrote a story about this crime that Meursault committed on the Arab man. I found that it was a very interesting theme and I told myself that I should develop it. After that it took me only a month to finish the draft of this book, but I left it in the drawer for a year and a haft before thinking of publishing it.
The story related to this crime is very interesting, and I wonder why no one thought of writing this book before.
The book talks about relations between Algeria and France during the colonisation, and post-colonisation. What was the reaction of readers in Algeria and France to your book?
The book is about Arab identity and the disastrous effects of French colonialism in Algeria, so when the book arrived to French readers, I expected the worst. But to my surprise, it was highly welcomed in France.
It has also been a big success in Algeria.
Since its first publication in 2013, the book has been translated into 22 languages. It will be staged at the Avignon festival in France in July, and it will also be adapted into a film.
I am happy that the book is written by the readers around the world and in particular in Viet Nam. The two countries have always had good relationship. In the 70-80s many Vietnamese people went to live and to work in Algeria. The two countries have common stories because they were both French colonies.
In the Algerian city of Oran, there is a street named Ho Chi Minh.
This is your first time in Viet Nam. What are your impressions of the country?
Well, it's very hot. I'm not used to living in hot weather like this.
I also feel that the locals are chilled out, and I'm impressed to see that the people here can live alongside each other, I mean that the limit between private space and public space here is not big.
I will write several articles for my newspaper about my impressions of Viet Nam. It feels that past wars do not obsess you too much. You advance quickly and the past does not inhibit you. In Algeria, many people are still haunted by the French colonialisation, and each time a problem happens, they say it's because of France.
Last year, a hard-line Islamist preacher called for you to be executed for apostasy, following your appearance on French TV in which you talked about your book and called on the Arab world to "resolve the God question" in order to progress and "share the world". This call has angered many people. Are you afraid, and are you planning on leaving Algeria?
No, I will not leave my country because I still have my family and my children there. I am afraid for my children and my family, but I tell myself that many other people are also threatened, not only me. We live in an unsafe world.
I know other people suffer more than me. For example, the living conditions for women in the Arab world. I am still luckier than many people. — VNS