Romain Gary Henri Peyre - Essay

Henri Peyre

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Roots of Heaven"] should delight those readers who have lately assailed the French novel as over-introspective, pessimistic, and morbid. Romain Gary is a believer in life, action, freedom, an idealistic lover of exotic nature and of beasts. His heroes are the elephants of Equatorial Africa.

Morel, a Frenchman who endured the horrors of German concentration camps, emerged from his nightmarish experience as a crusader for all that mechanically enslaves or crushes men, animals, and nature in the modern age. He undertook a campaign to preserve the roots of heaven, as they are called in the Islamic world, planted by God in the depths of the human soul. (p. 15)

The complex story is told through a series of monologues by half a dozen characters, the chief ones being a kindly skeptic, Saint-Denis, who sympathizes with Morel's idealism, and a priest, who stands clearly for the late anthropologist and philosopher, Father Teilhard de Chardin. (pp. 15-16)

Faulkner's technique must have been studied and has indeed been mastered by Romain Gary….

"The Roots of Heaven" is often involved in its sentence structure, unshapely in construction, only half credible in its characterization. Yet it achieves dramatic power. The hero imposes himself less vividly upon the reader than the secondary characters and the splendid descriptions of equatorial scenery. The message of the novel is obvious in its allegorical form. "Moby Dick" and other allegories such as Camus' "The Plague" are called to mind. Good and evil are not clearly differentiated as in a Sunday-school story. But the Russian-born, French diplomat Gary, whose "European Education" was one of the most moving books on the Resistance, asserts here his impassioned plea for the salvation of a world threatened by cruelty and injustice, of which man is a victim or an accomplice. (p. 16)

Henri Peyre, "Allegory of Cruelty," in The Saturday Review, New York (© 1958 Saturday Review Magazine Co.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XLI, No. 5, February 1, 1958, pp. 15-16.