The Mersault Investigation


Image from the New York Times

This man, your writer, seemed to have stolen my twin Zujj, my own description, and even the details of my life and my memories of my interrogation! I read almost the whole night through, laboriously, word by word. It was a perfect joke. I was looking for traces of my brother in the book, and what I found there instead was my own reflection, I discovered I was practically the murderer’s double. I finally came to the last lines in the book: “… had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.” God, how I would have wanted that! There was a large crowd of spectators, of course, but for his crime, not for his trial. And what spectators! Adoring fans, idolaters! No cries of hate ever came from that throng of admirers. Those last lines overwhelmed me. A masterpiece, my friend. A mirror held up to my soul and to what would become of me in this country, between Allah and ennui.

The Mersault Investigation is Algerian journalist Kamel Daued’s first novel, the story of the younger brother of the un-named Arab in Camus’ The Stranger. In The Stranger, a Frenchman named Mersault  murders the Arab on  a hot beach in Algiers in 1942.  He is tried for his crime, but convicted for his uncaring attitude about the world, most specifically the death of his mother.   The Mersault Investigation picks up in the current day, with the Arab’s much younger brother (he was 7 when his brother died) telling his story, and to some extent that of his brother, to an investigator.  In this telling, The Stranger was not written by Camus, but rather by Mersault himself.  

The Arab, Musa, was murdered that day on the beach.  His body was never recovered (which makes no sense as in The Stranger the lawyers know how many bullets were in the body), and his family was thus not able to prove that their missing Musa is the same person as the Arab killed on the beach.  The mother lives in constant misery at the loss of her eldest son, and the younger brother (Harun) grows up feeling alone in the world, secondary to his brother, detached from his surroundings.  He tells of the days after the murder, then about a period in 1962, at the time of the Algerian revolution from France, when he is confronted with the murder anew, in unexpected ways.

The story is deftly told, and explores not only Harun’s identity in the shadow of his dead brother, his brother’s identity in the shadow of The Stranger, but also Algeria’s identity and people as well.