Romain Gary Charles Rolo - Essay

Charles Rolo

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is, I submit, unsettling if not wicked for the author of a personal history to leave one guessing as to where fact ends and semifiction begins. This is my one complaint about Romain Gary's splendid book Promise at Dawn…. It is labeled nonfiction; the narrator is named Romain Gary; and he refers to his story, which coincides with the known facts of Gary's life, as "an autobiography." However, M. Gary has said: "This book is autobiographical in inspiration, but it is not an autobiography … truth has been reduced to artistic truth alone." Thus one is doomed not to know how much art has doctored life…. What is certain is that Gary, whether he has reproduced, retouched, or departed from reality, has done so with inspired results. His book is packed with memorable incidents—comic, touching, bizarre, fantastic. (p. 122)

Ludicrous, pathetic, cagey, magnificently heroic, Madame Kacew [Gary's mother] comes brilliantly to life as a fusion of lunatic romanticism and indomitable resourcefulness. Romain was taught, like a son of royalty, every accomplishment, while his mother struggled and slaved to provide. (pp. 122, 124)

Promise at Dawn is in turn extravagant, humorous, poignant, and reflective. Artfully combining the tragic and the comic, Gary has written an altogether original and captivating memoir. (p. 124)

Charles Rolo, "Reader's Choice: 'Promise at Dawn'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1961, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 208, No. 4, October, 1961, pp. 122, 124.