Home > 1930, 20th Century, French Literature, Gary, Romain, Short Stories > The roots of a literary heaven

The roots of a literary heaven

La petite femme, followed by L’orage. Two short-stories by Romain Gary. Not translated into English, as far as I know.

When I read Belle de Jour, Kessel’s style reminded me of Romain Gary. As I knew Gary admired Kessel a lot, I wanted to read the two short-stories written by Gary and published by Kessel in Gringoire, the news magazine he co-founded. They were published under his birth name, Roman Kacew. According to his biography, Gary refused to publish other texts in Gringoire after it professed anti-Semitic ideas in its pages, although he desperately needed the money. “Je ne mange pas de ce pain-là”, he said. (« I won’t eat that bread »)

Gary was living in Paris at the time, studying law and gathering with members of the Russian community and friends from Nice, the Agids. (They will be friends all their life; I like the idea of his fidelity to friendship). He begged to be introduced to Kessel, also Russian and I was curious to see if Gary tried to mimic Kessel, especially in early works.

So, let’s see what these stories are about.

La petite femme. (The Little Wife) published in Gringoire on May 24th, 1935.

Indochina. The road engineer Lacombe is having a hard time building a road through the bush. His wife comes from France to stay with him. One of his men tells the story and starts like this:

Oui, monsieur. C’était une toute petite femme. Blonde, frêle, maquillée, elle se promenait dans la brousse en fumant des cigarettes américaines et, au début, nul au monde ne l’aurait empêchée de changer de robe deux fois par jour. Yes, Sir. She was a very small woman. Blonde, slender, made-up, she wandered in the bush smoking American cigarettes, and at the beginning, no one could have stopped her from changing her dress twice a day.

I enjoy that kind of descriptions, I can picture her very well. In a few words, we imagine how bold (wandering alone in the bush!) and unusual (smoking American cigarettes!) this woman was. “Was”: the readers understand immediately that they will be told what became of her.

L’orage. (The Storm), published in Gringoire on February 15th, 1935.

Ils étaient installés dans l’île depuis quatre ans : le soleil du tropique avait tué en lui, l’homme, en elle, l’amour. They had been settled on the island for four years: the tropical sun had killed the man in him and love in her.

Doctor Partolle and his wife Hélène live on an island in the Pacific. It’s a day hot as hell, a storm is announced and hoped but it seems it will never come. Nobody visits them on this remote island, ever. So when a boat reaches their coast, it is an extraordinary event. A rough man named Pêche has come from a distant island to see Doctor Partolle for an important matter. Partolle is absent and Hélène welcomes Pêche, who is immediately attracted to her. He almost molests her but abruptly stops. Why? Why did he come? Why did he stop?

As I said earlier, I decided to read these stories to compare their style to Kessel’s style. Writing the review, I realise I forgot my original goal. What is most interesting in these two short stories is that they were written in 1935 before the war, when all the literary work by Gary was published after 1945. He was deeply changed by his experience as a soldier and haunted by the Holocaust. It came to my mind when I wondered why I found these short stories “lighter” than his later works. Gary’s themes (brotherhood, humanity, goodness, hope, love as a salvation…) are absent. However, his sense of humour is already there, showing up in the middle of a paragraph:

Son plus grand chagrin eut pour cause la mort de son pékinois ; il avait essayé de jouer avec un serpent. Mais les serpents sont d’humeur plutôt acerbe, et les plaisanteries, même les meilleures, sont perdues pour eux ; le pékinois paya de sa vie son besoin de société. La petite femme Her deepest grief was caused by the death of her Pekinese; he had tried to play with a snake. But snakes are usually in an acerbic mood and even the best jokes are lost for them; the Pekinese paid with his life his need of company. The Little Wife.

Strange that both short-stories take place on the other side of the world? No, very Gary to write about implacable heat in the cold of a French winter. Later, he will write about snow while he was knocked out by heat in Africa.

I could feel this is the work of a young man, on the verge of life and filled with the great expectations his mother had fed him with. After the war, his work will always have an underlying tone of despair as his hopes about humanity were smashed by the horrors of the war. Here, humour is for fun. Later, it will be a protection of the mind. La petite femme and L’orage are well constructed, with no useless detail and with a good sense of drama. I can tell that the roots of his literary heaven are already growing in these two little stories.

PS: Usually I don’t complain about the price of books, I consider that paperbacks are rather cheap in France, but really, €8,50 for 58 pages of short-stories is a little bit overrated.

  1. April 9, 2011 at 2:18 am

    For La Petite Femme I thought of the Clark Gable/ Jean Harlow film Red Dust. It’s set in Indochina and concerns a rubber plantation owner and a prostitute. Perhaps I made the connection because the woman in the story is blonde and petite–like Harlow. Apart from that I’m sure the story is different.


    • April 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      I don’t know that film, sorry. In Gary’s story, the woman isn’t a prostitude.
      I would recommend you to read this in French if it were a 2€ Folio edition. It’s short, without slang and rather easy grammar and vocabulary. A good start.


  2. April 9, 2011 at 10:14 am

    I was very surprised by these Maugham-like settings. Did not expect them from Gary. The stories sound interesting but, I agree, hardly justify the price.


    • April 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      I thought of Maugham too. The settings and the endings are really similar. He was already a good writer; he had it in him.


      • May 12, 2014 at 8:49 pm

        Ok, my memory isn’t what it was. I forgot this review.
        The edition I’ve ordered contains more stories. It’s called L’Orage.


        • May 12, 2014 at 9:01 pm

          That’s the one I have too.


  3. April 10, 2011 at 6:40 am

    Red Dust has a Maughamish touch to it now I think about it.


  1. No trackbacks yet.

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

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Literary Potpourri

A blog on books and other things literary

Adventures in reading, running and working from home

Liz Dexter muses on freelancing, reading, and running ...

Book Jotter

Reviews, news, features and all things books for passionate readers

A Simpler Way

A Simpler Way to Finance

Buried In Print

Cover myself with words

Bookish Beck

Read to live and live to read

Grab the Lapels

Widening the Margins Since 2013

Gallimaufry Book Studio

"It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent--lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It's as simple as that." -- Tove Jansson

Aux magiciens ès Lettres

Pour tout savoir des petits et grands secrets de la littérature


Adventures in reading

The Pine-Scented Chronicles

Learn. Live. Love.

Contains Multitudes

A reading journal

Thoughts on Papyrus

Exploration of Literature, Cultures & Knowledge

His Futile Preoccupations .....

On a Swiftly Tilting Planet

Sylvie's World is a Library

Reading all you can is a way of life

JacquiWine's Journal

Mostly books, with a little wine writing on the side

An IC Engineer

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Pechorin's Journal

A literary blog

Somali Bookaholic

Discovering myself and the world through reading and writing

Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

Supporting and promoting books by Australian women

Lizzy's Literary Life (Volume One)

Celebrating the pleasures of a 21st century bookworm

The Australian Legend

Australian Literature. The Independent Woman. The Lone Hand

Messenger's Booker (and more)

Australian poetry interviews, fiction I'm reading right now, with a dash of experimental writing thrown in

A Bag Full Of Stories

A Blog about Books and All Their Friends

By Hook Or By Book

Book Reviews, News, and Other Stuff

madame bibi lophile recommends

Reading: it's personal

The Untranslated

A blog about literature not yet available in English

Intermittencies of the Mind

Tales of Toxic Masculinity

Reading Matters

Book reviews of mainly modern & contemporary fiction


words, images and musings on life, literature and creative self expression


Book reviews by someone who loves books ...

Dolce Bellezza

~for the love of literature

Cleopatra Loves Books

One reader's view

light up my mind

Diffuser * Partager * Remettre en cause * Progresser * Grandir

South of Paris books

Reviews of books read in French,English or even German

1streading's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Tredynas Days

A Literary Blog by Simon Lavery

Ripple Effects

Serenity is golden... But sometimes a few ripples are needed as proof of life.

Ms. Wordopolis Reads

Eclectic reader fond of crime novels

Time's Flow Stemmed

Wild reading . . .

A Little Blog of Books

Book reviews and other literary-related musings


Lectures épicuriennes

Tony's Reading List

Too lazy to be a writer - Too egotistical to be quiet

Whispering Gums

Books, reading and more ... with an Australian focus ... written on Ngunnawal Country


Thinking, writing, thinking about writing...

%d bloggers like this: