Romain Gary forever

 I thought my first post should be about my favorite author, Romain Gary (1) I met his literature when I was 17. I was on holiday with my parents in a rented apartment in the Alps. I had read all the books I had brought with me and the landlord had left behind “Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid”. I knew the author by name and I started reading it. It is the story of a rather old man who falls in love with a much younger woman and has difficulties to accept aging. Hence the title. The theme was quite far from the life of a seventeen-year-old girl. But something clicked in my mind, my personal internal voice seemed attuned to his, like he was saying aloud things my mind confusedly felt but couldn’t turn into words.

So I fell in love with this writer. I loved his dark sense of humor, the poetry in his style, the acuteness of the way he saw the world. He was someone who could write “It was one of those bunch of flowers which are looking for a heart and only find a vase”.

I read most of his books, my favorite ones being “Promise at Dawn”, “The Roots of Heaven”, “White Dog”, “The Ski Bum”, “Lady L” and “The Life Before Us”.

His personal story is incredible and told, a bit reinvented, in “Promise at Dawn”, a kind of autobiography. He had multiple lives in several countries : writer, World War II aviator, diplomat, living in Poland, France, England, Switzerland, the USA. This novel is a tribute to his mother, and the influence she had on his personality and his life.

He was brilliant and had an extraordinar hindsight of situations. In 1956, he wrote “The Roots of Heaven”, which tells the story of Morel, who wants to save elephants in Africa. It was written before the word “ecology” was even invented. He foresaw how protecting the environment is linked to protecting humanity. Political comments are spread through the pages, like this one, about African peoples : “If these three greenhorns have not reached the point where they are ready to give their life, if need be, to defend Nature, it means they have not suffered enough themselves. (…) They will have one day, their Staline, their Hitler and their Napoleon, their Führer, their Duce and on that day, their blood will yell out in their veins to demand respect for life ; on that day, they’ll understand.” And they did have their own tyrants.

White Dog” is a very interesting book too : it is about an Afro-American man who tries to rehabilitate a dog which was trained to attack black men. It also describes the life Romain Gary and Jean Seberg had in Los Angeles and her relationship with the Black Panthers. It analyses racism and how it is deeply rooted in minds and how it is hard to change people.

The Ski Bum” was first written in English and then translated into French. It is about Lenny, who flew from America to Switzerland to escape being sent to Vietnam. He tries to escape his country and himself through extreme skiing. He meets Jess, whose father is a diplomat. She has issues too. They fall in love against their will and eventually find a way to heal each other through their relationship. I feel a special bond with Jess, her fragile force.

However, now that I’m older, I disagree with his vision of women. He had an old fashioned way of seeing women, quite misogynistic in a way gentlemen could me so. Women are precious and fragile. He values women as being different to men in a positive way for him. They are softer, more compassionate, the incarnation of love ; it underlies that they could not act as badly as men. That does not suit with my feminist vision of sexes : we are equal, both in worse and best behaviors. Which was proved by Lynndie England in the Abu Ghraib prison, if anyone needed evidence of that.

Moreover, Wold War II was raging when he was in his twenties. And he was Jewish. His books are haunted by a quest about the horrors organized by the Nazis. He had a hard time accepting that this inhuman crimes were part of humanity, of human nature. He wrote“I thought I would die of shame. Of course, I was full of delusion then, because, if one could die of shame, humanity would have died long ago”. It lead him into thinking about dictatorships. He never was a communist, cleverer in that than Sartre and many intellectuals of the time, for he was too loyal to de Gaulle and saw through the communist pretenses and knew it as it had turned out : cruel dictatorships.

For all this, his sense of humor, his love for humanity, his perceptive way of understanding the world and the tempers of the characters he invented, Romain Gary’s books are worth reading. Enjoy yourself !

(1) For his biography, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romain_Gary

  1. May 17, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Very interesting. I didn’t know of him. Do you know Antoine de Saint-Exupery? I wrote up one of his over at mine a little while back and was hugely impressed by it, this reminded me slightly of that.

    I didn’t know that White Dog was a book. It was made into a film back in the 1980s which I didn’t manage to catch but that got very good reviews at the time.

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  2. May 17, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Yes I know about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, you can’t imagine how many schools and streets are named after him.
    I should read it again, though, I would certainly like him better now. I studied “Wind, Sand and Stars” in Junior High with a very boring teacher and it ruined that book for me. Previously, I had studied “The Little Prince”, also in Junior High, with an interesting teacher that time. I’ll go and see what you wrote about him, it may help me
    I knew a movie was made out of “White Dog”, I haven’t seen it either. “The Roots of Heaven” is also a movie, but I’m not sure it’s a good one. Anyway, movies are often disappointing compared to the books.
    If you decide to read one of Romain Gary’s books, I would recommend you to start with “Promise at Dawn”. It will give you an idea of who he was as well as a good overview of his style and sense of humor.

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  3. October 8, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Beautiful post.
    If you still havn’t gotten round to buying David Bellos’ Romain Gary: A Tall Story, I beseech you to read my (excerpt) review here http://the-excerpt-reader.blogspot.com/2010/08/excerpt-david-bellos-romain-gary-tall.html
    Please let me know what you think of it.

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    • October 9, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      ‘Beautiful post’ seems overrated: reading it again, I find it clumsy and I saw grammatical mistakes. (I’d rather not think about the ones I didn’t see)
      I wasn’t aware that a new biography had been published. He died 30 years ago, I suppose it gave ideas to publishers.

      I have read your review, btw and left a comment there.

      Like

  4. December 11, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    More about Romain Gary here, under Litlove’s plume:
    http://litlove.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/2212/

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  5. December 30, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    As you know I’m digging through your posts to gather information for tonight’s Secret Santa. I’m surprised to read that he was cleverer than Sartre and too loyal to de Gaulle. It got me wondering, is that (indirectly and partially) the reason why he adopted a pseudonym? Because as far as I know, the intellectual life in France -at the time he was writing- was heavily dominated by the left, and Gary was complaining that critics were dismissing him and remarking, whenever he’d publish a book, this is the Gary of 68, the Gary of 69, etc… They stopped taking him seriously, and noted that his books weren’t politically engaged (which is a comment normally uttered by leftists, no?). It was a very polarized political climate at the time, in France, wasn’t it? I wonder what your take is on him taking a pseudonym.

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    • December 30, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      I think he adopted a pseudonym because he wanted to be someone else. Gary became his real name, he made it official.
      And yes, his political side was unusual for a writer of this time, I suppose.

      PS: please let me know how the Secret Santa went. I’m curious 🙂

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  1. April 30, 2012 at 12:08 am

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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