Home > 1960, 20th Century, French Literature, Gary, Romain, Made into a play, Novel > Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary: from book to play

Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary: from book to play

November 27, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

La promesse de l’aube by Romain Gary. 1960. English title: Promise at Dawn.

Not a regular reader of this blog ignores that I worship Romain Gary the way an American teenager kisses Robert Pattison’s feet. Not very mature from me, I know, but when it comes to him I’m fifteen again. (Feels good sometimes too, I dare say) So, when I discovered – by chance, thanks to my attentive husband – that Promise at Dawn had been made into a play, I had to see it. Lucky me, my professional schedule allowed the trip to Paris and I could watch the play.

Romain Gary wrote Promise at Dawn when he was a diplomat in Los Angeles and the opening scene is on the Big Sur beach. It is the story of his mother, Nina Borisovskaia and of his childhood. May we call it “auto-fiction”? For me, it is not a memoir or an autobiography. Some of the anecdotes aren’t true; some elements are purposely missing; Gary used his past to create a novel, a tribute to his mother.

And what a mother!! She was a Jewish Russian actress and she did everything she could for her son. She dreamt of one country for his son: France. She wanted him to be an artist; she imagined him ambassador of France, the new Victor Hugo, a hero. She made her way from Vilnius to Varsovie to Nice for him. Her ambition and her trust in him were unlimited and did not include respecting propriety if propriety got in the way of what she wanted for him. Any job was respectable if it brought the money she needed for him. In a way, her eccentric view of his future – I’m a mother too and I don’t expect my son to be the next Tolstoy or President one day – saved his life. The family that stayed behind in Vilnius died in concentration camps.

She was a divorced mother and she loved him in an excessive way, bringing hot chocolate in school, riding miles in a taxi to say good-bye when he was in the army. She infused courage in him, faith in his capacities. She was a loving tyrant, expecting a lot from him, from heroic behaviour to being a womaniser. Her love was also really demonstrative and he was sometimes ashamed of her, and feeling guilty to be ashamed of such a gift.

How can you ever repay such a love? By following the program she designed? How can a woman ever measure up with such a mother, every man’s first love? People who knew Gary say she stayed with him all his life, that he was imagining what she would say before making a decision.

In addition to the mother-son relationship, Promise at Dawn also drops thoughts about being Jewish in pre-WWII France, about the war itself, the RAF, the comradeship, about being poor, all this with a serious sense of humour.

Bruno Abraham-Kremer and Corinne Juresco adapted the novel for the theatre in a marvellous way. Gary loved theatre and it’s great to see one of his novel made into a play. The whole text is made of Gary’s sentences from Promise at Dawn. Abraham-Kremer has a common past with Romain Gary. He’s Jewish; his family comes from Vilnius too and he says they both had the same kind of education. Gary’s choice for literature reflects his own choice for theatre. Romain Gary is a special writer to him; he helped him; they have an invisible connection. He was the one playing Gary and Nina on stage; changing his voice let us hear mother and son. She rolls her “Rs” like a Russian speaking French, swears in Polish, Russian and probably Yiddish. She wants her son to become a “Mensch”, something Gary thought incredibly hard to achieve. The play brings her to life. Abraham-Kremer wears clothes that look like the ones Gary wears on photos and in a way, he manages to look like him. I’ve heard Gary’s voice in radio programs and sometimes I forgot the actor and heard the real man talking.

An exquisite moment, a great adaptation, I’m so happy I could make it.  Thanks, M. Abraham-Kremer.

  1. November 27, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    I think that sons with incredible mothers have a double-edged sword to deal with.

    Have you read Lady L?


    • November 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm

      Gary used to say that according to the rules of psychology, he should be more insane than he actually was.

      Yes I have read Lady L. Actually, that’s one I’d recommend to you, with White Dog, Promise at Dawn and The Roots of Heaven. I’m not sure Life Before Us should be your first Gary.


  2. November 28, 2011 at 9:40 am

    You really enjoyed this, how wonderful.
    She sounds like a fascinating mother, very touching but that could indeed be quite dammaging.
    I thought this book had been translated into English?
    I’m glad they managed to put this on stage in a successful way. this could have gone really wrong.


    • November 28, 2011 at 9:52 am

      I had a great time. He’s good material for theatre. Life Before Us was also made into a successful play. I saw Christophe Malavoy playing Gary on stage too. I took my colleagues to this play, they had a great time.
      In December Jacques Gamblin is on stage, saying La Nuit sera calme. I have a ticket.

      Promise at Dawn has been translated into English and is not OOP. Lots of them were translated when they were published but are OOP now. You can find used copies though.


  3. November 28, 2011 at 10:22 am

    What a wonderful opportunity to see a play based on a book you love – a treat I have never had. However, BBC Radio are currently broadcasting a two part play based on a favorite Stefan Zweig novel, Beware of Pity


    • November 28, 2011 at 2:02 pm

      I was lucky to see it,yes.
      I’ve seen a play based on Letter From an Unknown Woman by Zweig and it was excellent.


  4. November 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    This is one Gary novel I haven’t read. I’ve been meaning to but I don’t actually think I own a copy – must rectify that! I’m a big fan of mother stories at any time, and I’ll bet in Gary’s hands it’s amazing. I’m glad the adaptation was good too – poor adaptations of favourite novels can be quite enraging.


    • November 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      Lucky you: you haven’t read it. It’s excellent, you’re going to spend a great reading time (and funny)


  5. November 29, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    I had a really good time too hearing the beautiful words of Gary. I just found that Abraham-Kremer voice was so different of Gary’s and I missed his voice and his subtle accent. I thought that he was better playing his mother. Anyway, I was really impressed by Abraham-Kremer performance.It’s a pity that we missed each other. I will go and watch Gamblin on the 11th and you ?


    • November 29, 2011 at 11:48 pm

      Thanks for dropping by.
      The words carried me and I forgot it wasn’t his voice. It became his voice.
      The parallel between their family histories adds something to Abraham-Kremer’s performance. Gary loved theatre (cf Pour Sganarelle, one that I haven’t read) but chose literature. Abraham-Kremer loves literature but chose theatre.
      I’ll see Gambling on December 14th; I don’t live in Paris, I try to match professional travelling with entertainment.
      I think I saw you, a brunette two ranks below had a cell phone with WP app and Twitter 🙂


      • November 29, 2011 at 11:50 pm

        PS: If you have a chance, go and see Trois poètes libertaires, told by JL Trintignant. It’s fantastic.


  6. December 11, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Discover more about Romain Gary on Litlove’s blog


  7. August 31, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    Great blog. I loved that novel. I also wrote my opinion on it on my blog. Unfortunately it is written in French as I am a native-speaker. I was glad to read you comment on it and will come back to read you.


    • August 31, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.
      I have read it in French too as it is my native language. I love this author.


  1. December 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm
  2. December 19, 2011 at 1:52 pm
  3. April 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm
  4. December 2, 2012 at 7:08 pm
  5. December 4, 2012 at 9:24 am
  6. August 13, 2013 at 12:16 am
  7. November 21, 2013 at 12:10 am
  8. March 29, 2020 at 10:52 am

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