From a review of Algerian Chronicle by James Campbell, in The Wall Street Journal, May 4
Albert Camus is the model of the postwar French writer: accomplished in a variety of genres, from novels of ideas to philosophy to stage plays; photogenic and charismatic; active in love and political debate, with a knack for the quotable maxim – this, for example, from Algerian Chronicles: “When the oppressed take up arms in the name of justice, they take a step toward injustice.” (Camus photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris, 1944)
In his youth, Camus had been a sportsman, playing soccer for his university team; in maturity a warrior on the field of conflicting ideologies of the Cold War. As for the actual, bloody battlefield of Occupied France, 1940–44, Camus was entitled to hold a steady gaze there, too, having edited a Resistance newspaper, while others felt obliged to lower their eyes. Yet he urged humane forgiveness for collaborators.
His attributes as author and moralist were rewarded with the Nobel Prize in literature in October 1957, shortly before his 44th birthday. Two years and three months later, on January 4, 1960, he died when a car in which he was a passenger collided with a tree on a road south of Paris. The driver, Camus’s publisher, Michel Gallimard, also died. The latter’s wife and daughter escaped unhurt….
The sole flaw in this picture is its basic premise: Camus was not French; he was Algerian in, to use his own phrase, “the full sense of the word.” He was born 100 years ago on a dirt-poor farm in the east of the country, near the Tunisian border, to parents who had never set foot in France. They were members of the group known as pieds noirs (“black feet”), immigrants of mainly, but not exclusively, French descent. Camus’s mother came from the Spanish island of Minorca; his father, of French parentage, only saw the “home” country when called to defend it in August 1914. He died two months later at the Battle of the Marne, when his son was one year old. The quest to discover more about his father provides the action for Camus’s luminous autobiographical novel, The First Man, the incomplete manuscript of which was found in the wreckage of Gallimard’s Facel Vega automobile.
All of Camus’s major works are set in Algeria.
Camus’s mother, Catherine, an illiterate, deaf widow, became for him the representative French Algerian. Her right to a decent, peaceful existence was illustrated in the oft-quoted maxim, “Between justice and my mother, I choose my mother.”