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Wednesdays with Romain Gary, Part Fifteen

April 23, 2014 8 comments

L’angoisse du roi Salomon by Romain Gary. 1979. English title: King Solomon. (OOP, used copies available)

Gary_LecturesL’angoisse du roi Salomon is the last book by Romain Gary and it was published under the pen name Emile Ajar. The narrator of the story is Jean, a young cab driver who met Monsieur Salomon his taxi. Monsieur Salomon is eighty-five years old and made a fortune in the clothing industry. Now, he’s doing good deeds by welcoming SOS Bénévoles (“Mayday Charity”) in his home. When Jean explains that he borrowed money with two friends to buy the taxi, Monsieur Salomon gives him the money to reimburse the loan on condition that Jean takes care of home calls for people who need assistance. Jean will meet with Monsieur Salomon’s former lover and will discover the old man’s past.

This week, I’d like to share this quote with you:

Le silence aussi a des variétés. Ou bien il ronronne, ou bien il vous tombe dessus et vous ronge comme un os. Il y a des silences qui sont pleins de voix qui gueulent et qu’on n’entend pas. Des silences SOS. Des silences comme on ne sait pas ce qui leur arrive, d’où ça vient, il faudrait des ingénieurs. On peut toujours se boucher les oreilles, mais pas le reste. Silence also comes in many varieties. Either it purrs or it falls down on you and gnaws on you like a bone. Some silences are full of bawling voices that nobody hears. SOS silences. Silences like you don’t know what happened to them, where they come from, you’d need engineers. You can always shut you ears but not the rest. Translation reviewed by Erik McDonald.

Silences have different textures according to the moment, the place or who you share them with. Silences can be as warm as a comfortable blanket or as cold as a North wind. They can be peaceful or disquieting, meaningless or loaded with repressed emotions. We’ve all tasted these different types of silences. Gary has his way to describe them.

Next week will be our last Wednesday with Romain Gary and May will be Romain Gary Literature Month on this blog.

Wednesdays with Romain Gary, Part Fourteen

April 16, 2014 13 comments

Les Racines du Ciel. 1956 English title: The Roots of Heaven.

Gary_LecturesRomain Gary won his first Prix Goncourt with Les Racines du ciel. It was published in 1956 and it’s the story of Morel who is in Africa to save elephants. Great challenge. This novel is an ode to wilderness and a plea to humanity to preserve natural resources. Gary advocates that preserving natural beauty is a way for humanity to prove its superiority to its basic instincts. Elephants are at stake, but there’s more to the story than preserving elephants and stopping illegal hunting. Morel is an idealist, a type of character Gary liked to explore. I picked a quote that sums up Morel’s fight and vision of nature:

Est-ce que nous ne sommes plus capables de respecter la nature, la liberté vivante, sans aucun rendement, sans utilité, sans autre objet que de se laisser entrevoir de temps en temps ? Are we no longer able to respect nature— freedom in living form —, which offers no yield, no usefulness, which has no other aim than to let itself be observed from time to time? Translation more than reviewed by Erik McDonald.

I had a lot of trouble translating this; the French sentence with all the commas isn’t easy to put together in English. Many thanks to Erik for his help. That quote asks the ultimate question: are we still able to admire and respect beauty for free.  Where is our civilisation going if we can’t value beauty for itself not for what it brings us?

Les Racines du Ciel was written nearly sixty years ago and I can’t help wondering what Morel would do about global warming. The preservation of elephants is the cause Morel fights for. Gary takes advantages of his character’s presence in Africa, in the soon-to-be former French colonies to discuss decolonisation and more importantly, its aftermath. He always has a sharp analysis of the world he lives in. These regions will be free from the French in the early 1960s and Gary already sees the dictatorships coming. I admire Gary for his capacity to decode the world around him. He’s sharp about politics but he also feels the trends in society in France or abroad. White Dog, Lady L, The Ski Bum, Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid…a lot of his books have that side analysis seep through the pages.

In my opinion, The Roots of Heaven is an excellent book but perhaps not the one I’d choose for a first Gary. It’s been made into a film which I haven’t seen.

PS: The celebration of Gary’s centenary continues in France and you’ll find useful links here, in Delphine’s post. I really want that version of Promise at Dawn illustrated by Joan Sfar. It weighs two kilos so it’s not very handy but I’m really curious about it.

 

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part thirteen

April 9, 2014 6 comments

Les Enchanteurs 1973. (The Enchanters).

Gary_LecturesI’m not sure this one has been translated into English and to be honest, this is not my favourite Gary. A lot of readers love it but I’m not drawn to magical realism. The narrator of Les Enchanteurs, Fosco Zaga is an old man. He’s more than two hundreds year old and he cannot die until someone else loves a man or a woman as deeply as he loves Teresina. He talks about her because if he stops, she’ll really die. The book is set in Russia when Catherine the Great was ruling the country. Fosco Zaga grew up in a family of enchanters and of travelling entertainers of Italian origins and he resurrects Russia in the 18th century with his memories. Fosco is a dreamer, an illusionist that bathes in dreams:

Je vais vous avouer qu’il m’arrive souvent de donner une préférence au rêve, ne laissant jamais à sa rivale la Réalité plus de cinquante pour cent des bénéfices, ce qui explique peut-être ma longévité, dont tant de gens s’étonnent, car ne vivant vraiment qu’à moitié, il est normal que ma ration de vie s’en trouve doublée. I must admit that I’m often in favour of dreams, only giving away to their rival Reality barely fifty per cent of the profits, which might explain my longevity. It surprises a lot of people but as I only half-live, it is quite normal that my life ration be doubled. Translation reviewed by Erik McDonald.

That’s Gary’s logic.

We only have three Wednesdays left before May which will be Romain Gary Literature Month. Several of you were interested in participating back in January, I hope you’ll still be there and willing to celebrate this wonderful writer with me.

Let’s read Romain Gary!

Gary_Enchanteurs

 

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part Twelve

April 2, 2014 8 comments

Les oiseaux vont mourir au Pérou. 1962 English title: Birds in Peru.

Les oiseaux vont mourir au Pérou is a collection of short stories and a film directed by Gary himself, starring Jean Seberg. The film is notoriously bad, so don’t bother. I picked this quote from the first short story of the collection:

Il faut espérer que l’âme n’existe pas : la seule façon pour elle de ne pas se laisser prendre. Les savants en calculeront bientôt la masse exacte, la consistance, la vitesse ascensionnelle… Quand on pense à tous les milliards d’âmes envolées depuis le début de l’Histoire, il y a de quoi pleurer. Une prodigieuse énergie gaspillée : en bâtissant des barrages au moment de leur ascension, on aurait eu de quoi éclairer la terre entière. L’homme sera bientôt entièrement utilisable. On lui a déjà pris ses plus beaux rêves pour en faire des guerres et des prisons.

Let’s hope that the soul doesn’t exist, it’s the only way for it not to get caught. Scientists will soon compute its exact mass, its consistency, its rate of climb… When you think about the billions of souls that have ascended since the beginning of times, you have good reason to weep. Such a tremendous amount of energy wasted: if we had built dams at the moment of their ascent, we would have had enough energy to light up the entire planet. Humanity will soon be entirely usable. Their best dreams have already been taken away from them to start wars and build prisons.

Translation reviewed by Erik McDonald.

Gary_LecturesFor me, this quote shows two of Gary’s obsessions. The first one is that everyone should keep their part of mystery. It’s not necessary to know everything, to explain everything with science or rationally. We live better if there’s room for dreams and imagination in our lives. Love isn’t that magical if you think of it in terms of hormones.

The second idea is that humans can’t be disposable goods. He rejects the trend considering that anything is marketable. Not everything is marketable. Humans are not. Wilderness should be protected and also everything related to art. Not every human activity should be evaluated according to its return on investment or its usefulness. I wonder what he’d think of surrogate mothers, fights to exclude films and books from international trade agreements and in general of how money has become the unique compass to assess someone or something’s worth.

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part eleven

March 26, 2014 4 comments

La Tête coupable (1968) English title: The Guilty Head.

Gary_LecturesLa Tête coupable is the third volume of a trilogy. The first volume, Pour Sganarelle, is an essay about novels, novelists and literature in general. The second one is La danse de Gengis Cohn and you can read my sloppy billet about it here. The last one is La Tête coupable. It’s out of print in English but you can get really cheap used copies online. I haven’t read Pour Sganarelle — yes, there are some Garys I haven’t read. Regular readers know I’m not good at reading essays, so it’s not a surprise that this one is on the shelf, unread.
I have read La Tête coupable a very long time ago. We find again the character Cohn. He’s now living in Tahiti under the protection of Bizien, the Napoleon of tourism. He apparently lives a peaceful life with a Tahitian woman. Sometimes he cons people into paying a Gauguin tax, surfing on the guilt the island feels towards the painter. As I’m browsing through the book, picking paragraphs here and there, I can feel the energy of Gary’s writing, his fantasy. I don’t remember the plot but it sure sounds totally crazy with snippets of insight about the world’s affairs. It’s hard not to think about William Somerset Maugham.
Cohn is a cynic and a picaro. Sganarelle is a character of the comedia dell arte and a famous facetious valet in Molière’s plays. Gary is going towards comedy there but as always he uses humour and laughter to cover his traces. Cohn is a histrion with a sad side.

Un cynique (…) est en général un homme très vulnérable qui tuerait père et mère pour essayer de se désensibiliser.

A cynic (…) is usually a very vulnerable man who would kill his own father and mother to try to desensitise himself.

Or:

Un cynique (…) est en général un homme très vulnérable qui tuerait père et mère pour essayer de se désensibiliser.

A cynic (…) is usually a very vulnerable man who would kill his own father and mother to try to keep himself from feeling. (Translation reviewed by Erik Mc Donald.)

The first one is my translation, I wanted to keep the verb “desensitise”. In French, “se désensibiliser” is not really used in the sense Gary uses it. It’s a medical term. He applies it to emotions. I wanted to keep it because it represents Gary’s ways with the French language. Using a word in a close but in a different meaning and always surrounded by other words that make its new use sound perfectly natural. It brings wit in the text and also a lightness that contradicts the seriousness of the message.
Shuffling through the pages of La Tête coupable, one word comes to my mind: déjanté. That’s the word for a special brand of French craziness for which I still haven’t found an equivalent in the English language. Feel free to throw ideas around.

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part ten

March 19, 2014 2 comments

Gary_LecturesFor newcomers, we’ll be celebrating Romain Gary’s centenary in May and there will be a Romain Gary reading month at Book Around the Corner. Every Wednesday, I share with you one or two quotes from a book by Romain Gary. This week, it’ll be from Clair de femme (1977), a poignant novel.

Michel whose wife just died bumps into another broken soul, Yannick. They will spend the night together, talking, healing. Clair de femme is a hymn to love and to the strength we have in us to recover from hardship. Sounds corny but it’s Gary, and it’s not. There could be an easy love relationship between Michel and Yannick (a woman) but Gary doesn’t go for the obvious. Hollywood stories aren’t his line of work. It’s sad but not bleak, because there’s always this touch of hope, Gary’s trademark.

Il ne faut pas se fier aux cheveux blancs, à la maturité, à l’expérience, à tout ce qu’on a appris, à tous les coups qu’on a pris sur la gueule, à ce que murmurent les feuilles d’automne, à ce que la vie fait de nous quand elle essaie vraiment. Ça reste intact, c’est toujours là et ça continue à vivre. You can’t rely on white hair, maturity, experience, on all you’ve learnt, on all the times you’ve been punched in the face, on what the autumn leaves murmur or on what life does to us when it really gets at it. It stays intact, it’s still there and you keep on living. Translation reviewed by Erik McDonald

In this quote, we find one of Gary’s line of thoughts. Hope and youth stay intact in us when we get older. Despite what we’ve been through, “it” stays intact. “It” is your spunk, your hope for a better future, your appetite for life, your capacity to fall in love and in a way, the illusions about life that you had when you were younger. It refers to the spark of youth that never dies in us, even when our body betrays us and gives away our age.

Here is another quote from Clair de femme:

Les vérités ne sont pas toutes habitables. Souvent il n’y a pas de chauffage et on y crève de froid. Le néant ne m’intéresse pas, précisément parce qu’il existe. Truths are not always liveable. Often there’s no central heating and it’s freezing cold. I’m not interested in nothingness, precisely because it exists. Translation reviewed by Erik McDonald

I think it’s true. Looking at things objectively can be really cold and a lot less comfortable than entertaining dreams or half-truths. Self-delusion is more comfortable than blunt lucidity. Gary is affected by acute lucidity and he deals with it by tempering the North wind it brings on his life by the South wind of humour.

I’ll leave you with news about the celebration of Gary’s centenary in France gathered by Delphine, from Romain Gary et moi. For once, I wished I lived in Paris.

PS: Clair de femme has been made into a film, directed by Costa-Gavras.

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part Eight

March 5, 2014 8 comments

Gary_LecturesThis week I’d like to share with you a quote from Promise at Dawn. It’s one of Gary’s most famous book, a memoir, an ode to his mother Nina. As Gary’s biographers will point out later, he took some liberties with the truth and rewrote certain parts of his personal history. But still. Promise at Dawn remains a beautiful book about the unconditional love of a mother for her son and an exceptional ode to France, his adoptive country.

There are dozens of wonderful quotes in Promise at Dawn. I’ve chosen one that represents Gary to me:

Je crus mourir de honte. Il va sans dire que j’avais alors beaucoup d’illusions, car si on pouvait mourir de honte, il y a longtemps que l’humanité ne serait plus là. I thought I’d die of shame. Needless to say I had a lot of naive ideas then because if one could die of shame, humanity would have disappeared a long time ago. (Translation reviewed by Erik McDonald)

In two sentences, he mentions a deep personal feeling (I thought I’d die of shame or of embarrassment since honte covers the two meanings in French), makes fun of himself and branches out on a thought about mankind. He goes from the intimate at human size to consideration about humanity with a hint of self-deprecating humour. Talented man. He has a way to put things in perspective. No need to dwell upon your little miseries, they’re nothing in the grand scheme of things and you’ll move on and feel better.

I know that some of you will read Promise at Dawn in May. I’d love to know if this quote is in the English translation/version of the book and how it’s been translated. Let me know if you come across that part.

PS: As I’m writing this, my husband is watching a program about Khrushchev’s visit to Los Angeles in 1959. He started yelling, I turned my head towards the telly, and guess who was in the audience? Romain Gary.

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part Seven

February 26, 2014 2 comments

Gary_LecturesRomain Gary wrote Education européenne in 1943. He was in England at the time, an aviator in the Lorraine squad that had just been included under the commandement of the RAF. He wrote this novel between battles, in a climate of fear and brotherhood. Education européenne was published in early 1945 and won the Prix des critiques. It was Gary’s first success and the book was translated in more than twenty languages. It’s a coming of age novel about a young Polish, Janek, who joins the resistance in the forest at the time of the battle of Stalingrad.

It’s written during the war and about the war. World War II changed Romain Gary forever. His mother passed away during these years, a lot of his family died in camps and he joined the French resistance early in the war, first in North Africa and then in England. His novels reflect his time and he tackles with the hot topics of these years: How does humanity recover from the atrocities of the extermination camps? What does it mean about human nature? Why are men tempted by Communism and ready to sacrifice for a cause? Are high ideals worth the sacrifice?

Freshly appointed as a diplomat in Sofia, Gary witnessed first-hand the way Communists took power in Bulgaria. Contrary to a lot of French intellectuals or artists, he was never a member of the Communist party. He wasn’t blind and I like him for that. He was against extremism in every form, believing that reality is always grey and messy. Extremism only knows two colours, black or white. There’s no room for empathy, grey zones and multi-coloured areas. He was wary of passionate heroism and grand speeches, just like here:

Lorsqu’ils affirment que rien d’important ne meurt jamais, tout ce que cela veut dire, c’est qu’un homme est mort ou qu’on est sur le point d’être tué. When they say that nothing important ever dies, it only means that a man just died or you’re about to get killed.  

He was always keen on unravelling heroic messages and pointing out how empty they could be or how they just hid an ugly truth. Beautiful ideas about freedom become a prison for the mind. But we’ll discuss this later when I write my billet about Lady L.

See you next week!

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part Six

February 19, 2014 1 comment

Le mercredi, c’est Gary! (It’s better in French, it rhymes)

Rien ne vous isole plus que de tendre la main fraternelle de l’humour à ceux qui, à cet égard, sont plus manchots que des pingouins. Nothing is more isolating than to hold out the brotherly hand of humour to people who are, in this respect, as awkward as auks. Translation by Erik McDonald.

Gary_LecturesThis quote is difficult to translate and I owe it to Erik to have found a good translation. In French, a manchot is a one-armed man, a penguin and a clumsy person. A pingouin is an auk. In this quote, Gary means that someone who lacks a good sense of humour is like a one-armed man. They’ve got a disability that prevents them to shake hand with someone reaching out offering humour and fun. They are missing out on a vital part of life and they are clumsy because they can’t navigate through life as easily without that help. I love the imagery in this quote. I picture someone who’s clumsy, wobbling through life and lacking dexterity in their dealings with life. If anyone finds a pun to replace the plus manchots que des pingouins, leave a suggestion in the comment section. It’s been nagging at me for a while but my English isn’t good enough to find a good one.

Humour is a theme often mentioned in Gary’s books. A good sense of humour is precious. It’s a weapon against others who take themselves too seriously. It’s an asset for someone who’s in a predicament as it helps you distancing yourself from the situation you’re in. It’s a medicine to heal when reality is falling hard on you. Self-deprecation is a jack to put you out of your misery. Gary has a sense of humour à la Woody Allen. You find Woddy Allen comical? You think Philip Roth is funny? You’ll like Romain Gary too and you’ll see what I mean about Gary and humour if you join us to our Let’s read Romain Gary event in May.

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part Four

February 5, 2014 12 comments

Hello,

Gary_LecturesWednesdays With Romain Gary is back! This week I want to share with you a quote from Lady L. which was first written in English before a French version was made. It was published in 1963. Gary’s first wife was the British writer Lesley Blanch (Lady L., like Lesley?). 1963 is the year he divorced Lesley to marry Jean Seberg. I read Lady L. a long time ago and what I remember most about it was an incredible style and a furious sense of humour. It is is told from the point of view of the said Lady L. who is now quite old and sees life through a curious and rebellious lense. I loved that character, probably because of her nonconformist mind. She doesn’t like weaknesses, see what she thinks of tears:

Les larmes sont des filles faciles et soixante ans d’ironie, d’humour glacé et d’Angleterre n’avaient pas encore appris à ces trotteuses indécentes un peu de retenue. Tears are loose women and sixty years of irony, ice-cold humour and England had not yet taught these indecent wanderers the least bit of restraint. (translation reviewed by Erik McDonald)

 I have a copy from 1963 and the blurb is actually a word by Gary himself about the book.

J’ai toujours été fasciné par un certain côté terroriste de l’humour anglais, cette arme blanche froide qui rate rarement son but. On rencontre souvent dans l’aristocratie britannique une sorte de tolérance universelle non dépourvue d’arrogance et que seuls peuvent se permettre des gens que rien ne saurait menacer. Dans Lady L., je me suis efforcé d’explorer ce thème et de faire en même temps le portrait d’une très grande dame qui a bien voulu me faire quelques confidences. Je me suis permis également de me peindre moi-même sous les traits de son compagnon et souffre-douleur, le Poète-Lauréat, Sir Percy Rodiner. Et comme les idéalistes m’ont toujours paru être, au fond, des aristocrates ayant une très haute et noble conception de l’humanité, cette autre très grande dame, l’histoire d’Armand Denis et de son extraordinaire amour ne pouvait manquer de m’intéresser. J’ai essayé de la raconter en respectant dans toute la mesure du possible la vérité historique. A ceux qui seraient un peu choqués par la façon dont finit mon récit, je dirai d’abord que je n’ai rien inventé et ensuite que le terrorisme passionnel a toujours été jugé chez nous avec indulgence. Humanité, humanité, que de crimes on commet en ton nom ! I’ve always been fascinated by a certain terrorist side of the British sense of humour. It’s a cold knife that rarely misses its target. One often meets among the British aristocracy a sort of universal tolerance not lacking of arrogance and that can only afford people to whom nothing can happen. I tried to explore this topic in Lady L. I also wanted to portray a great lady who confided in me. I also indulged in portraying myself under the traits of her partner and scape-goat, the Laureate-Poet Sir Percy Rodiner. Since I’ve always thought that idealists are aristocrats who have a very high and noble opinion of mankind, this other great lady, the story of Armand Denis and his extraordinary love couldn’t fail to interest me. I tried to tell this story and respect the historical truth as much as possible. To those who might be shocked by the ending, I’ll say that I didn’t invent anything and that love terrorism has always been judged with indulgence here. Humanity, humanity, how many crimes are committed in your name! (My clumsy translation)

Just typing and translating this makes me want to read the book. Used copies are available in English and it was been made into a film directed by Peter Ustinovn, starring Sophia Loren and Paul Newman. I haven’t seen it. Perhaps the second semester of 2014 should be dedicated to Gary’s books made into a film. What do you think?

Gary_LadyL

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part three.

January 29, 2014 4 comments

Hello,

Gary_LecturesTime for our weekly Gary quotes. Today I’ve chosen two quotes from Les Cerfs-volants. (1980). It’s Gary’s last book and I don’t think it’s been translated into English. The title means Kites. It’s a story of love, hope and war from 1930 till after WWII and from Normandy to Poland.

Like last week’s quote, Erik McDonald helped me with the translation. The quotes I picked are short but triggered exchanges about their translation. I found it fascinating that we both struggled with the same words or expressions and that we had so much hesitation to translate such short passages. It gave me a tiny glimpse of what it must be to translate a book; the exchanges between writers and translators must me interesting and I wonder how translators of dead writers do to make all the choices they have to make every sentence along the way.

First quote:

Je comprends qu’on meure d’amour parce que parfois, c’est tellement fort, que la vie n’arrive pas à tenir le coup, elle craque. I understand how you can die of love because sometimes it’s so powerful that life can’t stand it and it shatters

Our problem was about the translation of “elle craque”. I had initially written “it breaks down”

Erik commented: I would suggest “bursts,” or perhaps “breaks apart” or “splits open” or “shatters,” if “craquer” sounds like a metaphorical use of the physical meaning (pants splitting, for instance). “Breaks down” works for “craquer” in the sense of “be unable to resist,” but in this short phrase I would take “break down” to mean “stop working,” the way a car can break down.

I answered:I had trouble with “craquer”. I went for “breakdown” because of the word “mourir” at the beginning of the sentence and also because “craquer” is a word you use for “to have nervous breakdown”. Perhaps “breaks apart” is the best or “falls apart”? Or “shatters”? It’s difficult because “craquer” means both mental and physical. You can use “craquer” for “pants splitting” as well. So maybe “shatters” is the best, eventually. (I’m writing and thinking at the same time)

In the end, I settled for “shatters” but it’s not exactly the same meaning as “elle craque”. For me, “to shatter” is more violent than “craquer”. What do you think?

The second quote is the following:

Le rêve a touché terre et ça fait toujours des dégâts. Même les idées cessent de se ressembler quand elles prennent corps. The dream has landed and that always causes damage. Even ideas stop seeming like themselves when they take on flesh and blood.

This is a recurring theme in Gary’s work, how good or nice ideas can become ugly when someone tries to put them into practice. I had first translated “a touché terre” by “has landed” and “prennent corps” by “embodied”

Erik changed them into “run aground” and “take on flesh and blood”. I agreed immediately about “take on flesh and blood”, I knew “embodied” sounded strange but I couldn’t find anything better. However I wasn’t so keen on “run aground”.

Here are Erik’s arguments: “Run aground” sounds like a ship metaphor: the ship gets into water that’s too shallow and hits bottom. That would cause damage. I first took “toucher terre” to be an airplane metaphor, in which case “has landed” or “has touched down” would work, but it would then be unclear what causes the damage.

And this is my answer: I prefer “has landed” because in French you don’t use that for ships. (You’d say “échouer”) and because Gary was an aviator. Airplane metaphors are more probable. And dreams are in the sky. (Day dreaming is « avoir la tête dans les nuages », “to have one’s head in the clouds”) What causes the damage? A dream is not supposed to land to remain intact. It can’t land without crashing and being damaged. That’s what he means.

I wanted to share our exchanges with you because I found it interesting that we had so much trouble translating passages as short as these. I hope you enjoyed this and I’m curious to know if you have other suggestions.

Thanks again for your help, Erik.

See you next week with quote from Lady L.

Wednesdays with Romain Gary – Part two

January 22, 2014 6 comments

Gary_LecturesHello everyone, it’s Wednesday again !

Time for our weekly quote by Romain Gary. Great news! I got help for the translation of the quotes! When I asked on Twitter if an Anglophone who could also speak French fluently would help me with the translation of quotes from the French, Erik MacDonald answered my tweet and came to my rescue. So Erik kindly reviewed and co-translated the quote you’re reading today. You may want to check his blog here.

Today I chose one from the first Gary book I’ve read, Au-delà de cette limite votre ticket n’est plus valable, or in English, Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid. It was translated by Sophie Wilkins, a “real” translator, not Gary hiding behind a pen name this time. This novel was pulished in 1975, the same year as La Vie devant soi. So he was able to write two books at the same time with very different styles.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Gary_Ticket It is hard to conceive of any subject that would be taboo in the contemporary novel, but Romain Gary’s latest theme, the onset of male impotence with age, attacks the myth of unassailable virility that may well be held sacred by our society Gary’s hero, Jacques Rainier, is a prisoner of his own maturity, of a lifetime of hard-mindedness and of his own highly evolved personal style. In what should be the prime of life, he finds himself facing the humiliation of vanishing manhood. Tycoon and Resistance hero, a man accustomed to power Rainier must suffer the waning of his virility at a time when his country France, must endure the economic upheaval of the energy crisis. His business empire is jeopardized, as is his affair with Laura, a beautiful young woman with whom he is deeply in love. He engages in desperate financial strategies and finds himself in bitterly comic consultations with the medical profession. Then Ruiz enters his life and, more significantly his consciousness. A thief, a foreigner, the embodiment of sexual potency Ruiz may also hold the possibility of release. Rainier’s options range from resignation and fantasy to suicide; his choice, finally is a disturbing one. YOUR TICKET IS NO LONGER VALID is a novel of sexual and financial decline, of the endgame between necessity and desire; but, more profoundly it is an examination of the nature of love which forces a reevaluation, a revision, of ourselves.

I still wonder how Gary reached out to my eighteen year old self with such a plot. Now the quote I want to share with you:

Le racisme, c’est quand ça ne compte pas. Quand ils ne comptent pas. Quand on peut faire n’importe quoi avec eux, ça ne compte pas, parce qu’ils ne sont pas comme nous. Tu comprends ? Ils ne sont pas des nôtres. On peut s’en servir sans déchoir. On ne perd pas sa dignité, son honneur. Ils sont tellement différents de nous qu’il n’y a pas à se gêner, il ne peut y avoir… il ne peut y avoir jugement voilà. On peut leur faire faire n’importe quelle vile besogne parce que de toute façon, le jugement qu’ils portent sur nous, ça n’existe pas, ça ne peut pas salir… C’est ça, le racisme. Racism is when it doesn’t count. When they don’t count. When you can do anything to them, and it doesn’t count because they’re not like us. You understand? They don’t belong. We can use them without demeaning ourselves. We don’t lose our dignity, our honour. They’re so different from us that there’s nothing to worry about, there’s no…there’s no question of them judging us, that’s it. We can have them do whatever lowly task we want because the judgment they pass on us doesn’t exist anyway. It can’t sully us…This is what racism is.

I chose a quote about racism, which is a theme that touched Gary deeply. He was Jewish and it wasn’t easy to be one in France in the 1930s. His mother never ceased to fear deportation when they were in France. He also lived in the USA during the fight for the civil rights and through Jean Seberg, he observed closely the movement of the Black Panthers.

I like this quote because it’s true. Racism is failing to see a fellow human being in someone who looks different. It’s looking down on someone because of the colour of their skin and feeling protected by this difference to do to them what you wouldn’t do to someone you acknowledged as your equal. This is why the Valladolid debate was so crucial.

This is not the place for such debate and I’ll add that there are lighter quotes in that book. Despite Jacques Rainier’s preoccupations being far away from mine, his way of considering love and relationships talked to me in a special way. Plus I fell in love with Gary’s style and unique sense of humour.

Thanks again to Erik for taking the time to review that quote and others to come. I feel grateful and lucky to experience the best that social networks can give.

See you next week!

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