MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In 1957, French-Algerian writer Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature. That same year, Camus's short story collection "Exile and the Kingdom" was first published in French. The first English translations of the stories were not well received by critics. And 50 years later, Carol Cosman has retranslated the book. It's out in paperback, with a forward by Turkish novelist and recent Nobel winner Orhan Pamuk. Alan Cheuse has a review.
ALAN CHEUSE: Pamuk classifies "Exile and the Kingdom" as philosophical fiction and places Camus himself rightly so in the grand company of Dostoevsky and Borges. Half of these stories - the three best I want to say - take place in Camus's native North Africa, and thus in the landscape of blue and white roof villages, sandy and stony deserts and infinite skies.
This landscape strikes the eye and weighs on the soul in the story called the "Adulterous Wife," about a woman named Janine who's traveling through colonial Algeria with her salesman husband. As Janine looks toward the horizon from the roof of their hotel in the desert, she feels this sudden premonition that something was waiting that she had not known until today and yet had always longed for.
She barely survives her encounter with the rugged North African terrain. The main character in the story called The Renegade or a confused mind doesn't even fare as well. He's a Christian missionary who has become the gibbering slave of a tribe of desert idol worshippers.
The only one of Camus's North African characters to actually choose his fate is the schoolteacher of a remote desert village in the story "The Guest." The teacher, a man named Daru, loves his harsh surroundings. He'd been born here, we learned. Any place else he felt exiled, writes Camus. But when a French policeman shows up at the village schoolhouse with an Arab prisoner and asks the teacher to turn him in over the district police, the ironic rewards of belonging to this trying land become all too clear.
In this desert, Daru concludes, no one, neither he nor his guest, the prisoner, mattered. And yet outside this desert, neither of them could have truly lived. That starkly edge paradox presented to us by this late great writer speaks to everyone over the decades, most anywhere on Earth.
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BLOCK: The book is Camus's "Exile and the Kingdom" translated by Carol Cosman. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
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BLOCK: Before there was IMAX, before there was surround sound, there was Cinerama. A fond remembrance coming up on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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