Writing the Gift of Immortality in Kamel Daoud’s ‘Zabor, or the Psalms’
Combining the elements of storytelling and magic, Kamel Daoud’s “Zabor, or the Psalms” (Other Press, 2021) follows Zabor — born Ishmael — who tasks himself with an immense responsibility in his small village on the edge of the Sahara: to prevent death and to heal people by writing about them. Daoud is the author of the Prix Goncourt winner “The Meursault Investigation'' (2013), a retelling of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” from the perspective of Harun, the brother of the Arab man murdered in the original story. Daoud also levels harsh criticism against conservative Arab authoritarianism and the “anti-imperialist” discourse of the Arab Left. He again takes readers back to Algeria in this new title.
Zabor, abandoned by his father as a child and raised by his aunt after his mother died in childbirth, is keenly aware of his position as an outcast within the village (and as an autodidact among illiterate neighbors). Regardless, he embraces his self-imposed destiny of saving people as he fills notebook after notebook, capturing as many details as he can about the lives of others. But when he learns his father is dying, Zabor must decide whether to use his powers to save the man who filled his childhood with abandonment and humiliation, putting pen to paper about his own life for the first time. Set in Algeria, “Zabor,” translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, explores a world where the written word can challenge fate and open alternative possibilities.
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