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.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

33 thoughts on “the first man

  1. aguywithoutboxers says:

    Thank you, my Nairobi brother, your the book review. Just in time for my next volume of “summer reading.” Interesting observation about the family not being practicing Catholics but insisting on all the rituals. Much love and naked hugs! 🙂


  2. Mordanicus says:

    Maybe I will read this book (in French), if I have some time.


  3. john zande says:

    A penultimate author, glad to see you’re enjoying him.


  4. It sounds interesting. I think I read L’Étranger years ago, but I’m not sure, but I do remember studying him.


  5. Good book, and a good review. Thanks.


  6. Great review, Noel. I’ll add this to my list.


  7. nannus says:

    The German edition of the book is on my bedside table but I have not had the time to read it, except from the first pages describing the arrival and birth. As far as I understand, this book is largely autobiographic. Hope I have time to read it soon.


    • makagutu says:

      You are right the book is mainly autobiographic and this only became evident to me when I read one of the letters he wrote to a friend which is included in the book. Usually I hardly ever read the biographies of the authors whose works I read until there is some insight I hope to gain from such an endeavour.
      Thanks for reading. I would propose you read the book. It will surely be worth the time.


  8. archaeopteryx1 says:

    To become god is merely to be free on this earth, not to serve an immortal being. Above all, of course, it is drawing all the inferences from that painful independence. If God exists, all depends on him and we can do nothing against his will. If he does not exist, everything depends on us.
    — Albert Camus — Myth of Sisyphus



  9. I adore Camus. I find his non-fiction even more enthusing than his fiction.


  10. Nancy Oyula says:

    Will definitely look for it.


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