Let’s read Romain Gary

Gary_LecturesIn my New Year billet, I mentioned that 2014 is the centenary of Romain Gary’s birth. Indeed he was born on May 8th, 1914 in Vilnius, Russian Empire. It was the year WWI started and the year WWII ended in Europe. Talk about a man to be destined to be influenced by war.

I decided to celebrate this anniversary with you. I thus declare that May 2014 is Romain Gary Literature Month. On the 8th of May, I will post a billet about one of Gary’s books, I don’t know which one yet. I hope I won’t be celebrating it only with myself but that some of you will want to join me. All you have to do is to read a book about him or by him and post a billet on your blog. Participants who don’t have a blog are welcome as well and can either leave a comment here or contact me to arrange the publication of a guest post. (bookarounthecorner@gmail.com or Twitter @BookAround) Ready to participate? Here are some reading recommendations:

For completists, Gary has two books included in 1001 books you must read before you die:

  • La promesse de l’aube, (Promise at Dawn)
  • Les raciness du ciel,  (The Roots of Heaven)

For aficionados of literary prize winners:

  • Les racines du ciel, Prix Goncourt 1956
  • La vie devant soi, Prix Goncourt 1975 under the pen name of Emile Ajar. (Life Before Us)
  • Education européenne, Prix des critiques 1945

For people who repeatedly land on my blog after googling “How French men treat their women”, try Clair de femme or Au-delà de cette limite votre ticket n’est plus valable.

Otherwise, here are what are considered his best books:

  • La promesse de l’aubre
  • La vie devant soi
  • Les racines du ciel
  • Chien blanc
  • Clair de femme
  • Lady L
  • Education européenne
  • Les enchanteurs
  • Les cerfs-volants.

Personally, I have a soft spot for Au-delà de cette limite votre ticket n’est plus valable (Your ticket is no longer valid) and Adieu Gary Cooper.

Bellos_GaryGary’s life is literary material. Poor, rich, aviator, war hero, diplomat, writer, son the jewishest Jewish mother, immigrant, married to the glamorous Jean Seberg, guilty of the most incredible literary mystification with the creation of Emile Ajar. Intrigued? A biography might tempt you. In English, you can find Romain Gary, a Tall Story by David Bellos and in French, Romain Gary by Dominique Bona or Romain Gary le caméléon by Myriam Anissimov.

If you want to read what others have written about him, check out Tombeau de Romain Gary by the Canadian writer Nancy Huston. She’s a huge Gary fan. Pierre Assouline from Le Monde wrote a wonderful article on his blog –Sorry, it’s in French. His first wife Lesley Blanch wrote Romain, un regard particulier. Several writers arranged a collective book, Lectures de Romain Gary in which each of them tells about one of Gary’s books. Nancy Huston and Pierre Assouline are among them.

I hope you are now excited to try one of his books and join me in May. Meanwhile, I will publish a quote by him from different novels every Wednesday, starting today.

Il faut toujours connaître les limites du possible. Pas pour s’arrêter, mais pour tenter l’impossible dans les meilleures conditions.  in Charge d’âme.

You need to know the limits of what’s possible. Not to stop yourself but to aim at the impossible in the best conditions. (my translation)

  1. January 8, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Count me in Emma I’ve roots of heaven waiting to be read


    • January 8, 2014 at 7:38 am

      Great news Stu. I’m in good company for May.


  2. leroyhunter
    January 8, 2014 at 12:37 am

    I’m in!


    • January 8, 2014 at 7:39 am

      Great. Now you need to pick a book.


      • leroyhunter
        January 8, 2014 at 11:56 am

        Hmm. The translated choices seem meagre at first glance. Will have to investigate further.


        • January 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm

          I think you’d like White Dog.


          • leroyhunter
            January 15, 2014 at 11:36 am

            Ah, I never realised that Gary is the source for the Sam Fuller movie. Thanks! I will order this (and maybe one or two others – they sound too interesting to pass up).


            • January 15, 2014 at 10:59 pm

              That’s the one. I knew you’d be tempted by White Dog. Of course, the other ones available in English are good as well.
              You’re welcome to send as many guest posts as you want. 🙂


  3. davidsimmons6
    January 8, 2014 at 12:52 am

    I flitted happily through “Life Before Us”, but I’m floundering a bit halfway through “The Roots of Heaven”. I’d love to try a third, preferably something closer to the first in style and content. Which one would you suggest?


    • January 8, 2014 at 7:40 am

      I’ll second Dima’s recommendation: Gros Câlin.
      Or, since you can read in French, Adieu Gary Cooper.


  4. Dima
    January 8, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Dear davidsimmo, I would suggest “Gros-câlin” by Romain Gary.


    • January 8, 2014 at 7:42 am

      Hi Dima,
      I agree with you, Gros Câlin is a good choice.
      There are billets about it on the blog.


  5. January 8, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Though I have never read anything by him before he looks to be a very worthy writer. Though I have a busy spring I will try to join you. It is great to discover authors and it is a an enlightening and fun experience to read what a variety of bloggers say about a single author.

    It is really a good idea to announce the event early like this so as to give everyone time.


    • January 8, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      Welcome aboard, Brian. I hope you’ll like him.


  6. January 8, 2014 at 10:40 am

    This is wonderful news, Emma! Glad to know that you are hosting a Romain Gary event in May! I am totally participating! I am definitely reading ‘La promesse de l’aube’ (‘Promise at Dawn‘). I am also tempted to try one or more of these – ‘Les raciness du ciel‘, (‘The Roots of Heaven‘), ‘La vie devant soi‘ (‘Life Before Us‘), ‘Lectures de Romain Gary‘. The lectures are really tempting! Looking forward to May 🙂


    • January 8, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      Hi Vishy,
      I hoped you’d chose that special time to read La Promesse de l’aube since I knew you had it on the TBR.
      I’m looking forward to your review.


    • January 17, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Vishy, is your English version of Promise at Dawn translated by John Markham Beach? Nancy Huston says it’s Gary’s pen name as a translator.


      • January 18, 2014 at 8:58 pm

        Yes, it is translated by John Markham Beach 🙂 So fascinating that it is Gary himself! Wow! Looking forward to reading it soon. I also want to read that Nancy Huston article. Thanks for telling me about it.


        • January 18, 2014 at 9:33 pm

          Excellent. Maybe we could try a little exercice when you’ve finished it, like compare the French and English version of the beginning of a random chapter. I’m curious.


  7. January 8, 2014 at 11:04 am

    I haven’t read Romain Gary in a while and there are many titles I still need to discover, but I loved loved loved Les cerfs-volants as a teenager. I’ll happily join you with Éducation Européenne as my book of choice.


    • January 8, 2014 at 9:31 pm

      I’m thinking about re-reading Education Européenne too. I don’t remember Les Cerfs-Volants that well but it’s a good idea too. I rememeber I liked it.


  8. January 8, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    I am currently not able to commit to anything, I almost didn’t even do my own read along but I wish you success and if it’s feasible I try to join.


    • January 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      I know what it is to be busy. Join us if you can.


  9. January 8, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    I normally don’t do months, but if you post a reminder in the run-up to May (as I’m sure you shall) I’ll certainly give it a go…

    Great idea by the way.


    • January 8, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      Wow, Max, isn’t that a first? I’m honoured you’re considering it.

      For you I’d pick Promise at Dawn, without a second of hesitation.
      You can also try Life Before Us if you want a shorter book.


      • January 8, 2014 at 10:22 pm

        It is, so don’t tell anyone I’m considering it…

        I think I have Promise at Dawn, which is another point in its favour.


        • January 8, 2014 at 11:34 pm

          My lips are sealed. I wouldn’t want to jinx your participation.


  10. January 8, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    I’m in too, especially since I promised to read Gary last year and haven’t yet gotten around to him. May sounds perfect. Thanks.


    • January 8, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Hi Scott,
      Thanks for joining us.
      Lucky you, you can read in French and choose any book by him.
      Do you know which one you’d read?


      • January 9, 2014 at 11:25 pm

        Probably Promise at Dawn, but I don’t know. That’s the one I have, which makes it an easy pick.


        • January 11, 2014 at 9:31 am

          It’s an excellent one. You have it in French, I suppose.


  11. January 9, 2014 at 6:29 am

    Promise at Dawn is easy to recommend – it has everything – laughs, plane crashes, a duel, plot twists, a classic Jewish mother.

    I don’t know what I will pick, but I will join in. Maybe not on May 8, that’s in the middle of the week, it’s impossible, can’t be done, but in the vicinity.


    • January 9, 2014 at 7:30 am

      Great news Tom. I’m curious to discover your pick.
      Any time in May will do, no problem.


  12. January 9, 2014 at 10:24 am

    I don’t know if I’m going to participate but I thought I would leave a comment nonetheless. I discovered Romain Gary two years ago with La vie devant soi and absolutely fell in love with his writing style. The story was beautiful and poetic, as well as terribly tragic. I have Les cerfs-volants, Au-delà de cette limite votre ticket n’est plus valable, La promesse de l’aube and La nuit sera calme on my shelves and I hope to read at least one of them soon. Maybe in May then, I’ll see ;).


    • January 9, 2014 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.
      I fell in love with his style too. It’s strange to connect like this with a writer.
      I hope you’ll join us and that May will be an opportunity for other readers to discover him.
      I wonder if the French press will celebrate the event.


  13. January 10, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    You knew I’d be in! I’m not sure yet which one I’ll read though. Promesse de l’aube maybe or Les cerfs-volants. You certainly won’t be reading alone, Emma. Clearly loads of people are curious about Gary, or reading him already. It’s going to be a big celebration! 🙂


    • January 11, 2014 at 9:34 am

      Thanks, I hoped you’d be in after that comment you left earlier. Les cerfs-volants is a good one too. Anyway I’m looking forward to your review of one of his books.


  14. January 11, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Now I could cheat and read my bah humbook then…


    • January 12, 2014 at 8:53 am

      Let’s call it killing two birds with one stone.
      See you in May with White Dog, then.


  15. January 25, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Great idea, Emma. I normally don’t do readalongs, but in a spurt of optimism I have just ordered the French edition of Adieu Gary Cooper. I figure I’ve got four months to decipher it – should be enough time 🙂


    • January 25, 2014 at 11:31 pm

      That’s great, I’m happy to know you’ll join us. It’s going to be am interesting month of May.
      You’re reading Adieu Gary Cooper. I’m curious to read what you as a writer think about Lenny’s wariness about words and languages.
      You need to know that Gary had a position as a diplomat in Switzerland and that, when he was a diplomat in Sofia, he lived through the same drama as Jess’s father in the book.
      If you have questions about French words or passages of the book, don’t hesitate to ask me. Don’t I know what it is to read in another language?


      • January 27, 2014 at 2:58 pm

        With my level of French, it’s going to be a struggle. But I am excited at the prospect. Just need to take it a little at a time. Thanks for the offer of help!


        • January 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm

          I mean it, don’t hesitate to ask questions.


  16. March 23, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Sounds like a great idea. I’ll plan to pull down my copy of “The Roots of Heaven” from my shelf and read it for the month.


    • March 23, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      Welcome on board! Will you write a review on your blog or leave a comment here?


      • March 24, 2014 at 2:36 am

        I plan to review the book at my blog, The Frugal Chariot.


        • March 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm

          Great, I hope you’ll leave a comment with the link


  17. ofer desade
    May 9, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    does anyone have the english version of tadek’s comments to his father on why he won’t come home to convalesce? that amazing paragraph on inviting tuberculosis over to take his lungs?


    • May 9, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      I’m not sure which passage of Education Européenne you’re talking about. I suppose it’s this one:

      – Si on me montrait dix enfants polonais et que, pour les sauver, il m’eût fallu lécher les bottes à dix soldats allemand, je dirais : « Votre serviteur ! »
      – C’est à peu près comme si je voulais me faire copain avec la tuberculose, dit Tadek. Comme si vous me disiez : « Ne lutte pas contre la tuberculose, Tadek ! Sois malin ! Mets-toi bien avec elle ! Tâche de gagner son amitié ! Vous voulez mes poumons, ma chère ? Mais comment donc, prenez-les, ils sont à vous, bonne amie ! Entrez, installez-vous, faites comme chez vous. » Après quoi, sans doute, pourrai-je dormir tranquille : la tuberculose aura la délicatesse de m’épargner.

      I don’t have the English version of this book, but I can suggest a translation from the French:

      – If someone showed me ten Polish children and that, to save them, I had to butter up ten German soldiers, I’d say “At your service!”
      – It is as if I wanted to befriend tuberculosis, says Tadek. As if you were saying “Don’t fight against tuberculosis, Tadek! Be smart! Try to be nice to her! Try to win her friendship! Do you want my lungs, dearest? Please, take them, they’re yours, sweetheart. Come on in, settle down, make yourself at home.” Then, without a doubt, I’ll be able to sleep peacefully; tuberculosis will have the delicacy to spare me.

      For readers who don’t know the novel, it is set among a group of Polish resistant during WWII.


  1. January 12, 2014 at 9:19 pm
  2. January 15, 2014 at 7:31 am
  3. February 7, 2014 at 4:12 pm
  4. February 19, 2014 at 12:53 am
  5. March 19, 2014 at 10:05 pm
  6. April 9, 2014 at 10:52 pm
  7. May 26, 2014 at 2:27 am

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