Friday December 08, 2017

The enduring power of Albert Camus' L'Étranger

Albert Camus smoking cigarette on balcony outside his publishing firm office, 1955.

Albert Camus smoking cigarette on balcony outside his publishing firm office, 1955. (Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty)

Listen to Full Episode 54:00

It's been 75 years since Albert Camus published L'Étranger — usually translated as The Stranger or The Outsider. And it continues to be the most translated book from French into English. Given how intense questions about "the other" are across the globe — who really belongs where and who doesn't — Camus' book is even more relevant than ever. Radio Canada producer Danny Braun speaks with a novelist, a rapper, some academics and a former death row inmate to delve into the enduring appeal of L'Étranger — both to the intellect and to the heart.


Written by an outsider about an outsider, L'Étranger holds an irresistible fascination for all those who read it. The author, Albert Camus, came from an illiterate family in Algeria, a pied-noir, neither fully at home in either Algeria or France, or anywhere else for that matter. Meursault, the main character, is also alienated from his surroundings, and eventually kills an Arab without really understanding why. First published in 1942, the novel still speaks to us — witness how societies in the West and elsewhere are still grappling with what to do with "the other", as the rise in both Islamic violence and Islamophobia would attest. 

The enduring appeal of the book is as personal as it is political.

Andrew Hussey is a journalist and professor of French at the University of London Institute, Paris. His documentary about Camus is called: Inside the Outsider.

Camus - Andrew Hussey quote

(Seana Pasic)

Ron Keine was sentenced in 1974 to death in New Mexico for a murder he didn't commit. Nine days before his execution, he was cleared.  He's now an anti-death penalty activist with the organization, Witness to Innocence

Camus - Ron Keine quote

(Seana Pasic)

Ghislain Loussingui works with marginalized youth in Marseilles, where he also writes and performs rap music under the name "Mystik". Watch Ghislain Loussingui's Solitaire Solidaire, music video inspired by Camus.

Camus - Ghislain Loussingui quote

(Seana Pasic)

Agnes Spiquel is President of the Society of Camus Studies.

Camus - Agnes Spiquel

(Seana Pasic)

Andree Fosty is the former president of des Rencontres méditerranéennes Albert Camus

Camus - Andree Fosty quote

(Seana Pasic)

Pierre Perraud was a teacher at the Lycée de Lourmarin, and friend of Camus.

Camus - Pierre Perraud quote

(Seana Pasic)

Also heard in the program:

  • Kamel Daoud is the author of Meursault, contre-enquête, based on Camus' L'Étranger, but in Kamel's version, the Arab killed by Meursault is given a name, "Musa".
  • Marcelle Mahasella oversees the Camus archives at the Méjanes Library in Aix-en-Provence.
  • Robert Zaretsky teaches French history at the University of Houston, Texas. He's written two books about Camus: Camus: Elements of a Life and A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning.
  • Roger Grenier (d. November 2017) was a writer, journalist and friend of Camus, who'd hired him after the war to work at Combat, the underground newspaper of the French Resistance.

**This episode was produced by Danny Braun.