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It’s the birthday of writer Albert Camus, born in Mondovi, Algeria (1913).
He grew up in a working-class family. His father was killed in the Battle of the Marne, and his mother worked as a cleaning woman; she could barely read. His family lived in two rooms, and they had no money, but a grammar-school teacher prodded him toward a university education. He studied philosophy in Algiers and tended goal for the university soccer team. He wrote later, “All that I know most surely about morality and the obligations of man, I owe to football.”In 1940, he moved to an Algerian town called Oran, where he spent time on the beach. One day, he saw a friend of his get into a fight with some Arab men and threaten them with a pistol. Soon afterward, he worked the scene into a novel called The Stranger, which became his most famous book.
It begins, “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” The narrator kills someone on a beach and goes to prison, where he eventually reconciles himself to his situation. He says: “For the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again.”
In the spring of 1940, Camus moved to Paris just as the war began with Nazi Germany. He got a job designing page layouts for a newspaper, and devoted most of his attention to writing The Stranger. He finished the book just before Hitler’s tanks rolled into the city. In the turmoil of that time, he wrote letters to a woman named Francine, who soon became his wife. He said, “I only know that I will maintain what I believe to be true in my own universe, and as an individual I will give in to nothing.”
The Stranger was published in 1942, followed by a collection of essays, The Myth of Sisyphus (1943). He also wrote The Plague (1947), a novel about the way people react when disease terrorizes their city. The Plague made him rich enough to quit his job at a publishing house, but he stayed. His boss convinced him to drive back to Paris one night in 1960 instead of taking the train. He was killed in an accident on the way. His unused train ticket lay in his pocket, and the manuscript of his last novel was found in the wreckage.
Albert Camus said, “[The writer] cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it.”