Romain Gary Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Romain Gary 1914–1980

(Pseudonym of Romain Kacew; also transliterated as Kassef and Kacewgary; also wrote under pseudonym of Emile Ajar) Russian-born French novelist, autobiographer, short story writer, and dramatist.

Although Gary never attained the status of a major writer, he produced several best-selling novels and managed, with his Emile Ajar pseudonym, a literary hoax of surprising ingenuity. Education européenne (A European Education), his first novel, was praised for its skillful evocation of the resistance movement in war-time France. Few of his later works were as highly acclaimed—notable exceptions being his symbolic novel, Les racines du ciel (The Roots of Heaven), and his fictional autobiography, La promesse de l'aube (Promise at Dawn), a poignant portrayal of his unusual mother.

It was not until the planned publication in 1981 of Life and Death of Emile Ajar by Gary that the literary world learned the true identity of Ajar, a pseudonym Gary had used for several novels, including La vie devant soi (Momo) and Pseudo. La vie devant soi received notoriety when its author (Ajar) refused the Prix Goncourt, a prize Gary had previously won for The Roots of Heaven and a prize which an author may only win once. Adding to the confusion was a signed statement by Gary that he was not Ajar and a later acknowledgement in Pseudo that Ajar was Gary's distant cousin, Paul Pavlowitch.

Gary was a passionate spokesman against various social injustices but the humanitarianism evident in his writings was often marred by sentimentality. His unexplained suicide ended his enigmatic career.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 102 [obituary] and Contemporary Authors, Vol. 108.)