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Romain Gary forever

April 30, 2010 8 comments

 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 I had read all the books I had brought with me and the landlord had left behind “Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid”.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

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