Kamel Daoud’s ‘Meursault’ Among Prix Goncourt’s Final Four, English Rights to Oneworld

Prix Goncourt organizers have announced the final cut, leaving just four titles in the running for the biggest of the French book prizes. Among them is Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud (@daoud_kamel), and English rights for his book Meursault, contre-enquête have been sold to OneWorld:

Daoud’s book has been on a prize-gathering mania in French (Five Continents Prize, as well as the longlists for both the Goncourt and Renaudot) after receiving a much quieter reception when it was published in Algeria last year.

Although Meursault, Contre-enquête (Meursault, the Counter-inqury) did not make the Renaudot’s final eight, Daoud’s debut novel has stepped forward into the Goncourt’s final four. A number of publishers bid on English-language rights at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair; OneWorld must be feeling pleased.

Not everyone has been thrilled with the novel. One Algerian critic suggested that criticism of the closure of bars in Algeria and “about Islam, religiosity, prayers, etc” was an unnecessary side-text, although one that likely goes over well with French readers.

In France, the book has been both a best-seller and critically acclaimed. According to Le Figarothe book has been “an unusual triumph,” particularly as it was 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.

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

The Prix Goncourt winner will be announced next Wednesday, Nov. 5.

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.

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