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Book Review: “The Sea Close By” by Albert Camus

At just twenty-one pages, this is more a pamphlet of Camus’ writing. It contains two essays, the one in the title and “Summer in Algiers”. I hadn’t read any Camus since my school days in France and reading his work in English was a new experience as well. I had many fond memories of his beautiful prose but was hoping for something a bit lighter than “The Stranger”. Reading for pleasure is also very different from analysing a text for your professor.

These two essays remind us that Camus was at his heart a lover of life, not the brooding philosopher that he is sometimes portrayed. “The Sea Close By” is a dream in which Camus travels the world by sea, paying homage to it and reflecting on its majestic beauty. The essay begins with this sentence with the following pages detailing Camus’ reconnection with the sea:

“I grew up in the sea and poverty was sumptuous, then I lost the sea and found all luxuries grey and poverty unbearable.”

The second essay, “Summer in Algiers” is another love letter, this time to the city of his birth. Camus is one of Algerian’s most famous writers, particularly in English speaking countries thanks to his involvement with the French resistance during World War Two, translations of his works and his associations with absurdist and existentialist philosophy (although he firmly rejected the latter throughout his lifetime).

This essay is more grounded than the previous one but no less dreamlike. We travel the sun-drenched streets of Algiers with Camus, admiring the terraces, flowers, the sea at the end of every street and people at play. The sumptuous and detailed descriptions show Camus intricate knowledge and deep love for his city. This essay was first published in 1938 and it shows why Camus once described that the troubles in Algeria "affected him as others feel pain in their lungs."

These two beautiful essays gave me a completely different perspective on Camus, and I would recommend them to anyone.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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