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the Complete Review
the complete review - politics / journalism

Algerian Chronicles

Albert Camus

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To purchase Algerian Chronicles

Title: Algerian Chronicles
Author: Albert Camus
Genre: Non-fictions
Written: 1958 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 220 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Algerian Chronicles - US
Algerian Chronicles - UK
Algerian Chronicles - Canada
Chroniques algériennes - Canada
Algerian Chronicles - India
Chroniques algériennes - France
Crónicas argelinas - España
  • French title: Chroniques algériennes
  • Translated by Arthur Goldhammer
  • Edited and with an Introduction by Alice Kaplan

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Our Assessment:

B : solid collection, but very much of that time and those circumstances

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2013 George Scialabba
Financial Times . 3/5/2013 Tobias Grey
Literary Review . 5/2013 Andrew Hussey
The NY Times Book Rev. . 12/5/2013 Susan Rubin Suleiman
Publishers Weekly . 18/2/2013 .
Wall Street Journal . 3/5/2013 James Campbell

  From the Reviews:
  • "The singular importance of Algerian Chronicles is that it brings together for the first time in English all of Camus's writings on Algeria (.....) Certainly, in all these essays he demonstrates a most un-Parisian aversion for abstraction and a taste for the concrete detail that reveals the reality of a situation." - Andrew Hussey, Literary Review

  • "Some of the most memorable pages here restate an argument Camus had already developed at length in The Rebel (.....) Even more eloquent, perhaps, are his remarks on the responsibility of intellectuals in times of hatred" - Susan Rubin Suleiman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Programmatic at times and fixed historically in the French-Algerian war -- replete with its particular repression and violence, massacre and torture -- the impassioned, politically committed Camus addresses issues that feel as current today as they did more than 50 years ago." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Algerian Chronicles, never before translated in its entirety, is a document worth having. But to understand fully why Algeria in the 1950s was such a painful subject for Camus, it is necessary to join him at large in the kingdom of poverty that was his boyhood and youth. Perhaps the Kaplan-Goldhammer team will turn their attention to the essays of L'Envers et l'endroit and Noces, books about a country that no longer exists by one of the 20th century's most enduring writers." - James Campbell, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Algerian Chronicles collects Albert Camus' writings about Algeria from 1937 through 1958; the collection as originally published in French in 1958 has been augmented by several other pieces, including one from 1937 (the original collection begins with his 1939 articles for Alger républicain about 'The Misery of Kabylia') as well as several later letters to the editor and the like.
       The long section on 'The Misery of Kabylia' is a closer look at then famine-stricken and densely populated Kabylia (Kabylie), a Berber-dominated region on the northern edge of Algeria. Camus' articles describe the region and the issues -- many exacerbated by the 1939 famine -- and Camus suggests what some of the underlying problems are, and how they could be dealt with. The relationship to the colonial power France plays a role in much that is wrong here, but this is not yet the full-fledged 'Algerian problem' that explodes after 1945. Nevertheless, Camus' broad overview suggests much of how colonial rule has gone wrong here. (As he dryly notes at another point: "French colonial doctrine in Algeria since the conquest has not been notable for its coherence".)
       Throughout these pieces, Camus tries to combat the: "the incredible ignorance of the metropolis in regard to North African affairs". Clearly, he sees this disconnect between the reality on the ground and the perceptions in France as fundamental in the intensification of what became the Algerian crisis, with the two sides (as it were) failing spectacularly to get on the same page (i.e. communicate in any meaningful way). As such, the pieces offers numbers, facts, and observations which are meant to open French eyes as to the actual conditions in Algeria -- and both some of the causes as well as likely consequences.
       After 1945, as hostilities escalated, the situation became even more intractable, as the two sides dug themselves in -- and remained blind to the other. Camus notes:

The French authorities believe that the repression had ended the rebellion. In fact, it signaled the beginning.
       And, as Camus suggests:
People are fighting about the method and the means, while no one pays any attention to the ends.
       He notes there is blame on both sides, and continues to suggest what issues have to be dealt with (and suggests how) for an agreement to be reached. Instead, of course, the conflagration just expanded. By the time Camus suggests a Swiss-type confederation (or rather: "an even more novel system") even he seems aware that his idealistic proposal is a desperate solution to a situation that has gotten completely out of hand; as he bitterly notes, if not this:
Algeria will be lost, with terrible consequences for both the Arabs and the French. This is the last warning that can be given by a writer who for the past 20 years has been dedicated to the Algerian cause, before he once again lapses into silence.
       Algerian Chronicles focuses closely on the specifics of the French-Algerian situation between the mid-1930s and the late 1950s. It's a slice of history that he presents quite well, beating furiously against the ignorance that leads inexorably to such waste and destruction. It also -- eerily and unsettlingly -- echoes the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian disputes.
       Camus' repeated calls against dehumanizing treatment are also worth recalling -- especially as he condemns the use of torture. As was obvious to him then (but is a lesson that torture-advocates still refuse to accept):
Even if dishonorable methods are accepted in the name of realism and effectiveness, they are therefore useless, except to discredit France both at home and abroad.
       These are well-presented pieces, and there is sufficient variety here, too -- but they also are very much of that time and place (even as they have some sadly universal and contemporary relevance, too). It's good to finally have these in English, but it falls a bit short of being a general-interest volume.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 April 2013

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Algerian Chronicles: Reviews: Albert Camus: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French-Algerian author Albert Camus won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature. He lived 1913 to 1960.

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