Wednesdays with Romain Gary, Part Fourteen
Les Racines du Ciel. 1956 English title: The Roots of Heaven.
Romain Gary won his first Prix Goncourt with Les Racines du ciel. It was published in 1956 and it’s the story of Morel who is in Africa to save elephants. Great challenge. This novel is an ode to wilderness and a plea to humanity to preserve natural resources. Gary advocates that preserving natural beauty is a way for humanity to prove its superiority to its basic instincts. Elephants are at stake, but there’s more to the story than preserving elephants and stopping illegal hunting. Morel is an idealist, a type of character Gary liked to explore. I picked a quote that sums up Morel’s fight and vision of nature:
|Est-ce que nous ne sommes plus capables de respecter la nature, la liberté vivante, sans aucun rendement, sans utilité, sans autre objet que de se laisser entrevoir de temps en temps ?||Are we no longer able to respect nature— freedom in living form —, which offers no yield, no usefulness, which has no other aim than to let itself be observed from time to time? Translation more than reviewed by Erik McDonald.|
I had a lot of trouble translating this; the French sentence with all the commas isn’t easy to put together in English. Many thanks to Erik for his help. That quote asks the ultimate question: are we still able to admire and respect beauty for free. Where is our civilisation going if we can’t value beauty for itself not for what it brings us?
Les Racines du Ciel was written nearly sixty years ago and I can’t help wondering what Morel would do about global warming. The preservation of elephants is the cause Morel fights for. Gary takes advantages of his character’s presence in Africa, in the soon-to-be former French colonies to discuss decolonisation and more importantly, its aftermath. He always has a sharp analysis of the world he lives in. These regions will be free from the French in the early 1960s and Gary already sees the dictatorships coming. I admire Gary for his capacity to decode the world around him. He’s sharp about politics but he also feels the trends in society in France or abroad. White Dog, Lady L, The Ski Bum, Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid…a lot of his books have that side analysis seep through the pages.
In my opinion, The Roots of Heaven is an excellent book but perhaps not the one I’d choose for a first Gary. It’s been made into a film which I haven’t seen.
PS: The celebration of Gary’s centenary continues in France and you’ll find useful links here, in Delphine’s post. I really want that version of Promise at Dawn illustrated by Joan Sfar. It weighs two kilos so it’s not very handy but I’m really curious about it.
Wandering Star by J-M. G. Le Clézio (beautiful but boring, so far)
The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman.
Harmless by Julienne Van Loon
# TBR20 Books read :
1 The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
2 Vernon Subutex by virginie Despentes
3 Lune captive dans un œil mort by Pascal Garnier
4 U.V. by Serge Joncour
5 Petit traité des privilèges de l'homme mûr by Flemming Jensen
6 Piazza Bucarest by Jens Christian Grøndahl
7 This Should Be Written In the Present Tense by Helle Helle (abandoned)
8 Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski
9 Still Life by Louise Penny
10 I Married a Communist by Philip Roth
11 N.N. by Gyula Krudy
12 Happy Are the Happy by Yasmina Reza
13 Vienna Tales
14 Fateless by Imre Kertész
15 Runaway by Alice Munro
16 L'outlaw by Georges Simenon
17 Continental Drift by Russel Banks (abandoned)
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