Max Gallo Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Max Gallo 1932–

(Has also written under pseudonym Max Laugham) French novelist and historian.

The following entry provides an overview of Gallo's career through 1995.

A popular author of historical fiction and nonfiction, Gallo is praised for his detailed and accessible accounts of modern historical events and biographies of European leaders. La nuit des longs couteaux (1970; The Night of Long Knives), a nonfiction work that examines Adolf Hitler's 1934 assassination of SA leader Ernst Röhm and about one hundred other political opponents within the Nazi party, ably demonstrates his command of complex historical data and his readable journalistic style.

Biographical Information

Born in Nice, France, Gallo was educated at the Lycée du Parc Imperial and at the Faculté des lettres et institut d'études politique of Paris, earning doctorates in contemporary history and letters. While teaching at the Lycée du Parc between 1960 and 1965, Gallo wrote his acclaimed L'Italie de Mussolini (1964; Mussolini's Italy), after which he became a journalist, television writer, and novelist. A socialist activist during the 1970s and 1980s, Gallo was named to various posts in the French government under François Mitterand.

Major Works

Most of Gallo's works, fiction and nonfiction alike, focus on contemporary historical themes and people. Mussolini's Italy, for example, incorporates extensive historical documentation in a biographical exploration of the complex character of Benito Mussolini—tracing the rise and fall of Italy's Fascist dictator during World War II. Maximilien Robespierre (1968; Robespierre the Incorruptible) examines the character of Robespierre, one of the principle agents of the French Revolution. Subtitled "A Psychobiography," this work incorporates detailed historical information and psychological theory to construct a portrait of Robespierre, showing him to be a lonely man struggling with an inner need for recognition and dignity. In Histoire de l'Espagne franquiste (1969; Spain under Franco), Gallo examines the life and political career of General Francisco Franco of Spain. Working from extensive primary documentation, Gallo follows Franco's rise to power and explores his dictatorial governing style. Gallo's first novel, Le cortège des vainqueurs (1972; With the Victors) also takes place in Italy during World War II. The story follows the wartime career of Lieutenant Marco Naldi, who is a press secretary for Mussolini's son-in-law. Motivated by his desire to maintain the values and traditions of his aristocratic Italian upbringing, Naldi lives a sexually promiscuous life in and around some of the major figures and political events that have changed the course of western civilization in the twentieth century. Following the publication of I manifestinella storia e nel costume (1973; The Poster in History), which traces the history of western poster art from 1789 to 1970, Gallo wrote the La baie des anges novel trilogy (1975–1976) and the two-novel sequence Les hommes naissant tous le même jour: Aurore (1978) and Les hommes naissant tous le même jour: Crepuscule (1979). These novels, according to the author, were designed as imaginative explorations of twentieth-century western society and its people. The plots of the two novels are interconnected, following the same seven people of varying socio-economic backgrounds over a period of forty years. As the stories unfold across Europe, the United States, and South America, the characters grow up and mature amid some of the most decisive events of the twentieth-century. Le regard des femmes (1991) tells the story of Lisa and Philippe's disintegrating marriage against the backdrop of contemporary French society. In the novel La fontaine des innocents (1992), Anne-Marie Bermont, a divorced career woman, encounters Jonas, a street hoodlum. As the plot unfolds, the lives of Jonas, Anne-Marie, and the tenants of Anne-Marie's Paris apartment building begin to intersect. Eventually, all of the characters get an opportunity to tell their own troubled stories about how they manage to survive in the disintegrating Parisian society of the late twentieth century. Although Gallo's L'Amour au temps des solitudes (1993) is set in present-day France, the plot ranges from Nice to Antibes, Italy, and to war-torn Yugoslavia. An aging magazine director, Catherine Vance, and members of her family recall several tragic events in their lives. In order to avoid the painful memories, family members devote themselves to their careers. For example, Catherine is totally occupied with managing her magazine. Eventually, Catherine's daughter Jeanne and Jeanne's husband Vincent are able to rise above their painful pasts and experience a sense of hope and self-acceptance, which is sparked by the rescue of a small child from a burning building in war-torn Croatia.

Critical Reception

Most critics have applauded Gallo's command of contemporary western history in both his nonfiction and fictional works. These critics have also noted his straightforward and conversational journalistic style, and have compared his plot structures and story development with the works of Honore de Balzac. While some commentators have faulted his use of flash backs and flash forwards in such nonfictional works as The Night of Long Knives, other critics, such as Joseph Lee, have contended that Gallo knows how to turn history into "a rattling good yarn." Although some critics have pointed out occasional historical inaccuracies in Spain under Franco and have accused Gallo of relying too heavily on personal opinion to flesh out his portraits of Robespierre and Mussolini, other commentators have suggested that his fictional characters are well drawn, such as Marco Naldi in With the Victors and Anne-Marie Bermont of La fontaine des innocents. Finally, because he is able to present contemporary western history in an engaging manner, commentators have generally agreed that Gallo's nonfiction and fictional works contribute to a deeper understanding of the complexities of the people and history of the twentieth-century.