Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Musa" by Kamel Daoud

Issue: April 6, 2015

Story: "Musa" by Kamel Daoud

Rating: $

Review: Full disclosure here..."Musa" is an excerpt from Daoud's 2013 novel The Meursault Investigation, which, if you were paying attention in high school literature you probably remember is a reference to Albert Camus' 1942 classic absurdist/existentialist novel, The Stranger. I'm relieved to find that out after reading this story, because I'm glad this isn't just a classic "gimmick" story and that it, instead, is part of a larger and more meaningful work.

In The Stranger, the main character Meursault, kills a nameless, faceless Arab on the beach outside Algiers on a sunny day, eventually gets convicted of the crime, goes to jail, and gets executed (spoiler, sorry, but it's been out for 70 years...). In "Musa" the main character narrates the time in his life when he found out about his brother's death and in which he and his mother endure the hardship of having lost the family's breadwinner and protector (as the father had vanished years before). He also gets into the ways that the mother-son relationship becomes tighter and more fraught with anger and expectation and guilt in the wake of Musa's disappearance.

At first, Daoud's sort of circular narrative was making me a little dizzy. He tends to give information all at once, and over and over again, while traveling back and forth in time at will. For example, we know Musa is going to die very very early in this story, and we flash back and forth to times both before and after his death, we flash to the narrator's adulthood, his mother's old age, then back to his childhood, all the while immersed in a close first-person narration. It's an interesting technique that, if you think about it, more closely mirrors the workings of the human mind and the nature of memory than does the classic Beginning, Middle, End story structure.

Insert witty caption here.
Once I got comfortable with Daoud's style and grasped the basic conceit, I read this story with much more interest and vigor. Daoud's is a voice laden with philosophy and emotional perspective and, even in the few pages we have here, he writes as if he's determined to make a connection with the reader, but he's not desperate to do so. Evidence of which can be found in these sorts of emotional tongue-twisters which will leave you wistfully gazing out the window while your tea gets cold:

The last day of a man's life doesn't exist. Outside of storybooks, there is no hope, nothing but soap bubbles bursting. That's the best proof of our absurd existence, my dear friend: no one is granted a final day, only an accidental interruption of life.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…