By 1939, Camus understood that France was bound to lose Algeria…


Far From Men, Pathé, 2014

From The Nation:

To understand the alchemy of Far From Men, it helps to recall the story that inspired it. “The Guest” is not as well known as Camus’s classic The Stranger, but it is a favorite text for teaching the history of decolonization and the only work of fiction by Camus that approaches the conflict between France and Algeria head-on. “The Guest” is also Camus’s most perfect short story—taut and stark, with an ending that leaves room for a hundred interpretations.

For Camus, the story began with a memory. In 1934 or 1935, a native worker in the Sahara was arrested on trumped-up charges and dragged by rope from his village to the county seat. Secours Rouge (a communist health and legal-aid foundation, active in solidarity movements in the 1930s) publicized the scandal by printing postcards showing the prisoner, the rope, the horse and the gendarme. Camus would have seen copies of the postcard in 1934 or 1935, when he was going door to door in the working-class neighborhood of Algiers where he grew up, recruiting Muslim workers to a largely European Communist Party. He never forgot the image. Nor did he forget the misery he saw in Kabylia, the mountainous region east of Algiers. In 1939, he wrote a multipart exposé of “Misery in Kabylia” for Alger-Républicain. He described destitute children reduced to eating poisonous roots, dreamed of a time when Muslim and European students would study in the same classroom, and lambasted the colonial government, whose refusal to reform the region’s economy and political structure left the population living in dire poverty. By 1939, Camus had already left the Communist Party, but he remained faithful to the values of a popular front against fascism; he began to understand that essential reforms would never take place, and that France was bound to lose Algeria.

By the time “The Guest” appeared in the collection Exile and the Kingdom in 1957, the Algerian Revolution was in its third year, and the former anticolonial activist found himself in an impossible position, neither supporting the revolutionary party nor endorsing the die-hard proponents of French Algeria. By then he was living in France; a brief return to Algeria in 1956 to organize a civilian truce with a coalition of political parties had ended in failure. In Camus’s first notes on “The Guest,” he imagines a story set in the High Plateaus of Algeria, a region poised between two mountain ranges. It was the perfect literary setting for an author who was between a rock and a hard place.

“The Guest” begins with the image from the Secours Rouge postcard: the local gendarme Balducci arriving at teacher Daru’s schoolhouse, dragging an Arab prisoner by a rope attached to his saddle. The prisoner, who remains nameless in the story, has been arrested for slashing his cousin’s throat in retaliation for the theft of grain. The French title of Camus’s story is “L’hôte,” which can mean “guest” or “host”—a rich ambiguity lost in translation. Jacques Derrida, Camus’s fellow Algerian, drew from Camus’s tale of a nameless “guest” a philosophy of hospitality. But “The Guest” is most often interpreted as an allegory of the liberal French dilemma in Algeria.

“Camus Redux”, Alice Kaplan, The Nation