Excerpt from The Stranger by Albert Camus
Today, maman died. Or perhaps yesterday, I don’t know. I received a telegram from the home: “MOTHER DECEASED. INTERNMENT TOMORROW. SINCERELY YOURS.” That means nothing. Perhaps it was yesterday.
The nursing home is in Marengo, eighty kilometers from Algiers. I will take the bus at 2 o’clock and arrive in the afternoon. That way, I can keep vigil and return tomorrow evening. I asked my boss for two days off and he couldn’t refuse me with such an excuse. But he wasn’t happy about it. I even told him, “it’s not my fault.” He didn’t reply. Then I thought I shouldn’t have said that to him. After all, I didn’t have anything to apologize for. Rather, it was up to him to offer me condolences. But he probably will the day after tomorrow, when he sees me in mourning. For the moment, it is almost as though maman were not dead. After the burial tomorrow, however, it will be case closed and everything will take on a more official appearance.
I took the bus at two o’clock. It was very hot. I ate at the restaurant, at Céleste’s, as usual. Everyone was very sorry for me and Céleste told me: “you only have one mother.” When I left, they walked me to the door. I was a little dazed as I still needed to go to Emmanuel’s house to borrow a black tie and an armband. He lost his uncle a few months ago.
Excerpt from Blue White Red by Alain Mabanckou
I was of those who believed that France was for others. France was for those we called les bouillants—the live wires. It was that faraway country, inaccessible despite its fireworks which scintillated in the lesser of my dreams and left, upon waking, the taste of honey in my mouth. It is true that I secretly labored in my field of dreams on the wish to cross the Rubicon, to go there one day. It was an ordinary wish, there was nothing special about it. One heard it from every mouth. Who of my generation had not visited France par la bouche—by their mouth, as one says in my country. A single word, Paris, was enough for us to find ourselves, as if by magic, before the Eiffel tower, the Arc de triumph or the Champs-Élysées. Boys my age teased girls, showering them with this serenade: I will go to France, I will live in the middle of Paris. We were allowed the dream. It cost nothing. It needed no exit visa, no passport, no plane ticket. Think about it. Close your eyes. Sleep. Snore. And one was there every night…
Reality caught up with us. The barriers stood, insurmountable. For me, the primary obstacle was the indigence of my parents. Not that we were dying of hunger, but the trip to France was only a luxury for them. One would live without it. One would live without having been there. Furthermore, the Earth continued to turn. The Sun would continue on its way, visit other faraway lands, meet us in the same place, in our plantations or at the marketplace, during the slaughter or the peanut harvest. My parents would ruin themselves for no reason on such an adventure.
I imagined their response: “What will you do with the Whites? You abandoned your studies a long time ago!”
The other obstacle was the negative image I had of myself. I judged myself with severity. I did not grant myself a single positive quality. I saw things from the dark side, imagining only the worst.
Convinced that I was a good-for-nothing, that I had no sense of initiative, I considered myself soft, phlegmatic and without the character that could resist the vicissitudes of an existence outside my country. To travel in search of success assumes a sharpened state of spirit. One could no longer look back upon finding oneself in the middle of a wandering wave. One must swim strong breaststrokes, swim in order to reach the shore.
To leave, is above all the same as to fly with ones own wings. To know how to land on a branch and take up the flight again the following day until reaching the new land, the land which pushed the migrant to abandon his footprints long behind in order to contend with a new place, an unknown place…
Excerpt from Chronicles of the Bidonville by Monique Hervo
Knowing war forces you to measure how vital respect for human life is. Protect that fragile spark, which trembles and may, at any moment, extinguish. Life, irreplaceable, the life of a bird, of a plant...so too a human life!
I am a child of war, of World War II. Exodus, bombings, German occupation: I quickly became aware of the meaning of the word “freedom.” Liberation, the closing of the death camps: it was while carrying out the survivors of Buchenwald on stretchers that I discovered just how far hatred of the Other can lead. Since then, my life no longer smells as sweet.
I meet Gandhi’s followers and, through them, I find others. I enter into Service Civil International, a precursor to NGOs. The political machinery frightens me. I foresee the manipulation. From a childhood marked by images of popular confrontations, parades, fists raised, blue white red flags ripped, red flags, black Anarchist flags, I retain an aversion to political ideologies. The French Communist Party votes for “Special Powers.” The governments inheriting the Republic, almost all French people, whatever their political affiliation, wish to ignore the existence of the exiled Algerians on French soil. Political parties, enmeshed in their determination to want to keep Algeria French, let Algerians rot in their ghettos. Certain Communist-controlled municipalities lure them in, hoping to use their settlement as a political weapon against the government in place. The French Communist Party, ill at ease in the abiding ambiguity of its positions, wishes to seem welcoming vis-a-vis the Algerians.