the first man

by Albert Camus

Is one of the books by the Nobel Prize winning author published posthumously.

It is set in Algeria and France where the writer takes us through the life of Jacques Cormery, the poverty of their household, the disabilities in the house and their struggle to live.

He tells us about the dead sons/ fathers/ husbands who lost their lives in the war and the question we ask is for what. We go with Jacques to visit his father’s grave. He is 40 years old. His father was 29 when he died in the war. The son is at once sad for he feels he is older than the father he never knew and for whom there seems to be so little he can learn.

We see Jacques through school with teacher M. Benard, who for the school year takes the place of the father who was never there. Jacques tells us he had no teacher for morals, for good or bad but we see in him an honest child and later man. He has learnt some practical morality from I don’t know where. In the fights between the pupils, I see our school days where there were fist fights mainly to redeem ones honour.

We are introduced to the iron lady of the family, the grandmother, on whose shoulder all the decision-making for the family rests.

We meet Uncle Ernest and his dog Brillant and his hunting colleagues. People united in their poverty. The only difference between them is in degree.

There is the hilarious story of Jacques first communion. First communion was received at between age 9 and 12, a time at which Jacques will be in school after having won a scholarship. The grandmother decides the grandson is having holy communion and he is having it now. The priest can’t believe the old lady who tells him either now or never. He gives in and Jacques has to do a crash course in a month in time for holy communion. The curious thing about this family is they are not practicing Catholics. God is never talked about in the house. Jacques for all intents and purposes is without a religion.

In the end, I really liked Jacques. He worked hard in school. He was painfully honest except for the few infractions he committed but which we can see his conscience troubled. He loved his mother, was loved by his uncle and had a great friend Pierre whom they went with to school.

Apart from the life of Jacques and their poverty, there is a problem of race that the author addresses. We have an Arab customer whose throat is slit by a Moorish barber. The fights on the streets between the Algerians and French demonstrate the tension between the two groups.

The book is a great read. There are two letters at the end of this book that will make you after finishing the book to see it in a different light. It is worth a read. I enjoyed it.