This book was not what I expected. Due to the philosophical, melancholy nature of the first two Camus books I’ve read, (The Stranger and The Plague), I expected this book to be more academic, but it was far from it; it’s a more personal book, nostalgic, full of feelings and memories.
This book is considered to be an autobiographical novel, and its unedited manuscript was found in the car wreckage in which Camus was killed. Even for an unedited piece of work, it is simply a masterpiece. It was interesting to read Camus' annotations, and “see” the thought-process in his writing. The markings and notes definitely made Camus appear more "human" than he seems to be in his other books. The deep philosophical musings from his other books is notably missing.
Jacques Cormery (Camus), a poor, gifted French child, was born and raised in Algeria by a semi-deaf mother and a domineering grandmother. As an adult (40 years old), he becomes more curious about his father, Henri, who died during the war at the very young age of 29. Not knowing his father clearly affected Cormery:
“Something here was not in the natural order and, in truth, there was no order but chaos when the son was older than the father.”
Unfortunately, nobody in his family could really help him on his quest:
“In a family where they spoke little, where no one read or wrote, with an unhappy listless mother,who would have informed him about his young, pitiable father?”
However, despite his frustration, Cormery (Camus) understands the situation; he understands poverty and its effect on people:
“To begin with, poor people’s memory is less nourished than that of the rich; it has fewer landmarks in space because they seldom leave the place where they live, and fewer reference points in time throughout lives that are grey and featureless. Of course there is the memory of the heart that they say is the surest kind, but the heart wears out with sorrow and labour, it forgets sooner under the weight of fatigue. Remembrance of things past is just for the rich. For the poor it only marks the faint traces on the path to death.”
I will end with an excerpt from a letter that Louis Germain (Camus' teacher, the man responsible for rescuing Camus from illiteracy) wrote to Camus:
"Who is Camus? I have the impression that those who try to penetrate your nature do not quite succeed. You have always shown an instinctive reticence about revealing your nature, your feelings. You succeed all the more for being unaffected, direct."
I would highly recommend it to all Camus fans. This is the kind of book that will stay with the reader for a very long time.