Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part Nine

Gary_LecturesLa Vie devant soi or Life Before Us is probably one of the most famous book by Romain Gary. It has been made into a film and into a play. Gary won his second Goncourt Prize with this novel under the pen-name Emile Ajar. This was an extraordinary literary mystification as a relative –Paul Pavlowitch – impersonated Emile Ajar. If you want to know more about that, read Litlove’s excellent post here.

La Vie devant soi is set in Paris, in the 19th arrondissement. This is a very multicultural arrondissement, even today. The narrator is a child, Momo as in Mohamed. He’s an orphan of Arab origin and he’s living with Madame Rosa, a Jewish old woman. Momo’s voice is unique. As a child he’s a mix between naiveté and perception. He doesn’t understand everything but his perceptions are spot on. That’s often how it is with children, they don’t have the conventional words to express what they think or feel but they still have an accurate insight. Momo has a fresh voice, full of ingenuousness and this is what I wanted to share with you in this quote:

Je sais qu’il y a beaucoup de gens qui font du bien dans le monde, mais ils font pas ça tout le temps et il faut tomber au bon moment. Il y a pas de miracle. I know there are a lot of people in the world who do good deeds but they don’t do them all the time and you need to be there at the right moment. No such things as miracles. Translation reviewed by Erik McDonald.

The part « Il y a pas de miracle » translated as “No such things as miracles” is an expression we often use in French to say “so it goes” or “expecting too much is like believing to miracles”. This quote represents Gary’s ambivalence towards Humanity. There are good people but they’re not always leading the game and you need a bit of luck to cross paths with them. One can’t give up on humanity because of these good people and they sustain Gary’s hope in humanity. Gary’s belief is that hope is indestructible in a human and it’s both a strength and weakness. It makes one stronger; it fuels one’s resistance, helps persisting in something important and fighting against despair. And it’s a weakness because it prevents one from cutting their losses and abandon something that obviously won’t work, be it a relationship, a cause or a pursuit. It’s a recurring theme in Gary’s work.

I leave you until next week with a last quote from La Vie devant soi:

Les cauchemars, c’est ce que les rêves deviennent toujours en vieillissant. Nightmares, that’s what dreams always become when they get older.
  1. davidsimmons6
    March 12, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Clearly, I have to rely on the fact that you are French, but I’m wondering about a different understanding/translation: “nightmares, that’s what dreams always become when one gets older.”

    Keep the Gary/Ajar snacks coming!

    Like

    • March 12, 2014 at 9:03 am

      It could be what he means but I don’t think it is.
      For me, he means that what the dream of your youth become your nightmares because dreams don’t age well. They don’t resist the passing of time. Think of all the dreams students had in 1968 and what these dreams have become in 2014…

      The beauty of Gary’s language is in this quote. He doesn’t use a straightforward sentence. All the words are there but put in a way that bring a little “mystery” about his real meaning.

      Like

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