The allure of traveling alone summons the thrill of anonymity: In a place where no one knows your name, you’re free to be anyone at all. Vendela Vida has built a career writing about women lost in translation, Americans on leave from themselves in places like the Philippines, Lapland, and Turkey. In her Casablanca-set latest, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (Ecco), an unnamed tourist’s backpack is stolen as she checks into her hotel—an inside job, most likely, given the reaction of the hotel staff. When the police turn up a stolen bag belonging to someone else, insisting it’s hers, she takes the path of least resistance and claims it. Using another woman’s passport and credit cards to check into a luxury hotel, she meets a Hollywood actress filming on location. One bad decision leads to another, one impersonation builds on another, and before she knows it, she has a job as the actress’s double. By the time the source of the narrator’s dispossession is revealed, it’s almost immaterial: The real mystery, echoed in references to Paul Bowles and Michelangelo Antonioni, is freshly resonant in our image-obsessed time and is a philosophical one. What happens when we release the tethers of identity altogether? Vida’s clipped, enigmatic style and on-the-lam story will resonate with anyone who’s ever used another culture to get lost in, though one wishes she’d finally cut loose a little, like her heroine.
After 70 years of anonymity, the Arab murdered on a sunny beach in Albert Camus’s classic novel, The Stranger, gets a name—Musa—and a novel of his own. Narrated by Musa’s younger brother, Harun, in retrospect, Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud’s searing debut, The Meursault Investigation (Other), isn’t simply a postcolonial reimagining, but an allegory of his own country and time. Harun’s attempts to avenge his brother have also made him a murderer, a stranger in a land caught between “Allah and ennui.” A best-seller in France and a finalist for the Prix Goncourt, Daoud’s novel has the magnetism of its forebear, but its themes of voicelessness and rage feel utterly present day.
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