Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Books for the News, Literature

Raves for Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger


Alice Kaplan’s “biography” of Albert Camus’s existential cult classic, Looking for The Stranger, made quite the debut this past week. Drawing praise from across the web and the subject of hefty reviews in several major publications (this post doesn’t even include one from Le Monde [I don’t speak French; sorry!] and the book’s second profile by Publishers Weekly), Looking for The Stranger’s prescience stems in part from its subject’s applicability to contemporary conversations about race and class, and inpart from Kaplan’s ability to turn the standard biography on its head, focusing on the historical circumstances that allowed Camus to produce a mass-market paperback—despite personal turmoil, the threat of censorship, and publishing industry fallout—which went on to sell six-million copies to date, rather than tracing an overly-baked life narrative of the author. Kaplan’s abilities as a storyteller are often acclaimed, so nothing new there, but here follow some fresh critical lauds below!

From John Williams at the New York Times:

To this new project, Kaplan brings equally honed skills as a historian, literary critic, and biographer. . . . In an epilogue, Ms. Kaplan goes a step further and looks for the identity of the Arab involved in the real-life altercation that inspired the novel’s pivotal scene. What she learns about him is fascinating, and how she writes about parallels between him and Camus is a lovely example of her own imaginative powers and stylish prose. . . . Reading The Stranger is a bracing but somewhat bloodless experience. Ms. Kaplan has hung warm flesh on its steely bones.

From PopMatters:

Outstanding. . . . Kaplan’s research is exhaustive (she includes an extensive bibliography), her tone is conversational, and her analyses convincing and often surprising. . . . Kaplan is a superb storyteller. One of the best chapters of the book, ‘Gallimard’s War’, reads like a philosophical thriller with its Nazi censors, misunderstandings, and moral conundrums. Yet, through all this she never loses focus on the novel to which her book is dedicated. . . .  Equally engaging are her chapters documenting the initial reception of the book in both the French- and English-speaking world. . . . Surely destined to become the quintessential companion to Camus’s most enduring novel.

From the Los Angeles Review of Books:

An absorbing account of the making of The Stranger For American readers, few French novels are better known, and few scholars are better qualified than Kaplan to reintroduce us to it. The author of several fine biographies of French and American writers, as well as the ravishing memoir French Lessons, Kaplan here sets herself the task of writing a biography of a book. . . . Kaplan tells this story with great verve and insight, all the while preserving the mystery of its creation and elusiveness of its meaning. . . . While some might question Kaplan’s claim that the novel ‘changed the course of modern literature,’ few will ever question either the work’s perennial appeal or the brilliance with which Kaplan has told its story.

To read more about Looking for The Strangerclick here.