It was early summer of 1958 and I was on my way to France for a Junior Year Abroad. Eight Hundred students from colleges throughout the country were tucked into the Dutch ocean liner, the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, which had clearly seen better days, but whose wonderful interior wood work and carvings testified to its once proud heritage.Half-way across the Atlantic, one of the propellers gave out and we limped to Le Havre in fourteen days. But we were all college students, there was ample food, and not a few romances were decorously hatched in those relatively innocent fifties. Dog-eared paper backs were abundant, and probably half those sunning themselves on deck, dreamed of being in Algeria, as they made their anxious way through Camus' The Stranger.These recollections came back as I read Sven Birkerts' review in today's Boston Globe of Elizabeth Hawes' new book, Camus, a Romance. Here is Birkerts' conclusion:
Camus, A Romance does much to bring this troubled and complex writer back into the light. We experience the tragic velocity of a committed life cut short, and at the same time we get the intensity of the postwar era, the sense of high stakes and intellectual urgency. We are also reminded, lest we forget, that while ideas and attitudes go in and out of fashion, moral vigilance stays. Camus lived full throttle with both eyes open. We may not be lofted quite to romance by Hawes account, but its hard not to be stirred.
A tragic postscript: shortly after our voyage the ship underwent a major reconstruction. In 1963 it was sold to the Greek line and re-named the Lakonia. During a Christmas cruise that year it caught fire and sank, with the loss of 128 lives. There is a web page dedicated to the ship and its long and tragic history.