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In Exile from the Kingdom: A Political Rereading of Albert Camus, Susan Tarrow interprets Camus's fiction in the light of nonfictional texts in order to elucidate his political vision. Although much shorter than Emmet Parker's The Artist in the Arena (1965), Herbert Lottman's Albert Camus: A Biography (1979), or Patrick McCarthy's Camus (1982), Tarrow's book, in spite of some annoying repetitions, is a much more satisfying study of Camus's works because all the biographical references illustrate her main thesis.
In nine chapters Tarrow discusses Camus's early years in Algiers, his pursuit of happiness in A Happy Death, his affiliation with Alger-Républicain, his implicit opposition, in The Stranger, to the values of colonialism that are perceived as oppressive and paternalistic, and his "resistance" during the German occupation of France. Then Tarrow analyzes Camus's intellectual impasse of the late 1950s and argues that his work reveals an ever-widening gap between his theoretical positions and his values. She believes that the distance between Camus's intellectual and political side is the result of his education—closely linked with the French language and with his identity as an artist—and his view of the world, which was formed by his origins in a pied-noir milieu in Algiers.
Tarrow's book is also a lucid analysis of Camus's political stance during the early postwar years when he refused to take sides either with the right or with the left, thereby emphasizing the relativity of all values in opposition to absolute ideals. During this period his articles in Combat affirmed revolt and not revolution, the sanctity of life and not History, the dignity of the individual and not the abstraction of ideology. Camus argued against the totalitarianisms of the left and of the right, denouncing Franco's fascism and Stalin's labor camps as well as the greed and complacency of the bourgeoisie. Tarrow suggests that amid the furor of the Algerian controversy, Camus's sole objective—apart from his career as an artist and his nonpartisan stance that was such a profound disappointment to left-wing intellectuals, particularly Jean-Paul Sartre—was to improve the lot of the underprivileged. Tarrow presents a persuasive case against the views of Conor Cruise O'Brien (Albert Camus of Europe and Africa ) and Henri Kréa ("Le Malentendu algérien," France-Observateur, 5 January 1961).
Tarrow quotes frequently from Camus's Notebooks and newspaper articles, thereby comparing his intentional statements to passages in his fiction that corroborate his political views. She thus establishes a link between authorial intent, commitment to sociopolitical causes, and Camus's art. In this context The Plague is viewed as an allegory of exile, separation, tyranny, and death. It becomes a vision of a totalitarian universe in which Camus raises pertinent issues concerning happiness, justice, and commitment. Although much of Tarrow's book chronicles familiar knowledge, it is organized in such a cogent way that it gives fresh consistency and plausibility to Camus's political thinking. The chapter entitled "The Limits of Rebellion" examines The Rebel, the Sartre-Camus controversy, and the virtues of revolt versus revolution. In "True Believers or False Prophets" [End Page 829] The Fall is viewed as an extension of the Sartre-Camus quarrel in which Camus's personal dilemma is resolved through irony. This chapter gives us a particularly convincing reading of Camus's ambivalence concerning the Algerian situation, his hostility to Marxist and bourgeois values, and his hurt pride over the Sartre-Jeanson criticism of The Rebel in Les temps modernes. In the chapter entitled "Exile from the Kingdom," a brief analysis of each story in The Exile and the Kingdom, Tarrow gives succinct details concerning the political situation facing France in the 1950s—the fall of Dien Bien Phu...