Romain Gary Frederic Morton - Essay

Frederic Morton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Romain Gary's] themes, being huge, demand huge stories. In "Lady L," he indulged in melodramatic fluff lesser writers can do better. His "The Colors of the Day" suffered from its own overly glamorous background. But given a truly heroic setting, Gary proves himself one of the rare writers left who are capable of true heroes. This he demonstrated in "The Roots of Heaven" and in his undeservedly obscure "The Company of Men."…

"The Company of Men" described Luc Martin's emergence at 14 from the anti-Nazi underground into the post-war underworld. Luc knows that his father, a Resistance fighter, was killed for some great good cause; and as the book builds poignantly, as Luc cuts and jabs his way through the blackmarket jungle, he is haunted by that unknown goodness the way good men are haunted by evil.

In "A European Education" the story is similar, though transposed a few years earlier and morally reversed. Again we have a teen-age boy who becomes an anvil to history. His name is Janek Twardowski; his father, too, has been killed fighting the Germans. He himself dwells among the partisans in the icy forests of occupied Poland…. His body withstands the stress. But his mind finds scant shelter against the rigor of certain thoughts: Is it really worth all the suffering? How much real freedom was there before the Germans came? How much will there be once they are driven off? How much culture is worth a million deaths?...

(The entire section is 412 words.)