Home > 1960, 20th Century, Challenges, French Literature, Gary, Romain > Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part One

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part One

January 15, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Gary_LecturesAs I mentioned in my Let’s read Romain Gary billet, we’re going to wait until May for the Romain Gary Literature Month with a weekly quote from one of his books. For our first week, I picked up a quote from Adieu Gary Cooper that makes me laugh. Lenny is the hero of the book, he’s an American ski bum who skies his butt out to forget about himself and his American origin. He stays in the Swiss Alps with other pathological skiers and he has funny ways with the language. When you read Adieu Gary Cooper, you can see that this one and La vie devant soi have been written by the same author. But back to Lenny. We’re in the 1960s, so they experience drugs:

L.S.D., un sale truc, Lenny s’était embarqué la-dedans une fois, mais tout ce qu’il avait vu, c’était la même chose, seulement en technicolor, et le seul moment différent fut lorsque sa verge s’était détachée de lui, avait mis son anorak et pris ses skis, et il s’était mis à hurler et à courir pour les rattraper, il tenait à ses skis comme à la prunelle de ses yeux. Se faire voler comme ça par l’un des siens…On ne peut vraiment plus compter sur personne. L.S.D., nasty stuff. Lenny had tried once but the only thing he had seen had been the same as usual, only in Technicolor. The only different moment was when his penis had detached itself from him, put on his anorak and taken his skis. He had started to yell and run after them, he wouldn’t give his skis for the world. To be robbed like this by your family…Really, no one could be trusted. (my tentative translation)

The English version of Adieu Gary Cooper is entitled The Ski Bum. I’ve read both books and I’m afraid that the English version is a bit toned down compared to the French. It’s definitely not a translation as the passage I translated earlier is not in The Ski Bum. So, here is now a quote from The Ski Bum.

Albert Camus, prophet of the absurd getting killed in an absurd automobile crash, which proves he was wrong and that there is some inner logic in life.

See you next week!

  1. January 15, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Nice quotes, Emma. Liked both of them – the first one (the French one) was funny while the second one (from the English translation) was thought provoking. Looking forward to this series – Wednesday with Romain Gary 🙂


    • January 15, 2014 at 10:03 am

      I have to say that I love the French title – ‘Adieu Gary Cooper’. I am wondering why they changed it to ‘The Ski Bum’ in the English translation.


      • January 15, 2014 at 10:58 pm

        Actually, Romain Gary first wrote The Ski Bum in English. Then he “translated” it into French and changed the title. It’s hard to translate literally “ski bum” into something good in French.
        I’ve seen correspondance between Gary and his publisher and he was very attentive to the titles of his books. And Adieu Gary Cooper is explained in the book. It’s a good bye to a certain America, the one represented by characters Gary Cooper played in his films.


    • January 15, 2014 at 10:55 pm

      Thanks Vishy. I hope you’ll like the next quotes too.


  2. leroyhunter
    January 15, 2014 at 11:39 am

    About The Ski Bum, Wikipedia says in its bibliography of Gary:
    “The Ski Bum (1965); self-translated into French as Adieu Gary Cooper (1969)”.

    So he himself did the toning down you mention? – or rather, he toned it *up* in the French version…?


    • January 15, 2014 at 11:02 pm

      He wrote The Ski Bum and then made a French version of it. Adieu Gary Cooper is not the translation of The Ski Bum, stricto sensu. The plot is the same but the French version is a lot funnier and more thought-provoking. Lots of good passages are missing in The Ski Bum. He was better in French, that’s for sure.


      • January 17, 2014 at 9:36 am

        Very interesting, Emma! It looks like Romain Gary first wrote a novel in English and used that as the basis and wrote a version in French which was similar in some ways but which was also different. It will be interesting to read both the French and English versions of the book and compare them. They look probably more like sister books rather than translations.


        • January 17, 2014 at 9:28 pm

          I’ve read both. The French version is better. IMO.
          Romain Gary spoke several languages, among them French, Russian and English.


  3. January 17, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    THat’s a thing I find realla fascinating about him, that he write different versions of his books, depending on the language. I think it would haveen to boring for him to translate literally.


    • January 17, 2014 at 9:35 pm

      I can’t tell if it comes from translation bring too boring or new ideas coming. As he’s his own translator, he’s allowed to alter the text if he wants.
      Nancy Huston wrote an article about translating Gary. She says there’s enough to do comparing the French and English versions of his books to write a thesis.


  4. January 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Those are great quotes. I particularly like the Camus one, but then being a Camus fan I would.


    • January 18, 2014 at 9:09 pm

      There are a lot of quotes, not always easy to translate.


  5. January 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Shame the English version is bowdlerised though.


    • January 18, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      I’m not sure “bowdlerise” is the right word in this case. The Ski Bum was written by Gary directly in English and before Adieu Gary Cooper. I imagine him more starting to write the French “translation” of the book and changing things or adding new passages. I prefer Leroy’s idea of toning up the French version.

      Nancy Huston wrote an article about Gary’s translations. She compared a chapter of La Danse de Gengis Cohn with its equivalent in English, The Dance of Gengis Cohn. First, the titles of the chapters aren’t the same. Second, within that chapter there are numerous differences between the two versions.

      Her argument is that Gary didn’t have a idea high enough of his art as a writer to think that one version of his book was THE version. He wasn’t thinking, “I’m writing in French, those who can read me in French, good, and for the others, pray for a good translation.”. Her idea, and I agree with her, is that Gary used the language to communicate and knew that he could better pass on his ideas if he used the right canal of communication. He could speak seven or eight languages. (French was only the fourth language he learnt) He had lived in different countries and knew that you could tell the same joke in different languages but not with a literal translation.
      She thinks he adapted his English version of his books for the Anglophone public to reach out to them.

      She gives an example of a chapter’s title in La Danse de Gengis Cohn. In French, it’s “Il lui faut un homme providentiel” and in English it’s Tfou, Tfou, Tfou, which is a yiddish expression very well used in the Jewish American world. It doesn’t mean anything in French but it speaks to the American public.

      Being the chameleon that he was, I think her theory is highly plausible. (Btw, Gary used to say that if you put a chameleon on tartan, it turns crazy)

      PS: is your copy of Promise at Dawn translated by John Markham Beach? Apparently, it was Gary’s pen name as his own translator.


      • leroyhunter
        January 20, 2014 at 12:58 pm

        Fascinating stuff!

        I’ve put the Bellos bio on my wishlist as well now.


        • January 20, 2014 at 10:06 pm

          He had a fascinating life. I’m really interested in what you’ll say about his bio by David Bellos.


  6. January 18, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    I bought another one Emma for May but I’m keeping silent on the title.


    • January 18, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      A little bit of suspense. Great!


  1. January 20, 2014 at 9:35 am

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