Romain Gary Patrick Breslin - Essay

Patrick Breslin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Romain Gary, author of a score of books, is obsessed in this new novel [Europa] with the chasm between Europe's great cultural achievements and its great crimes—Nazi barbarism the best, but not the only, example. Gary pursues that obsession through the tale of the slide into schizophrenia of Jean Danthes, French ambassador to Rome, and produces a novel that is portentous and obsessive.

Danthes is "a man of immense culture" to whom Europe's cultural warehouse is as familiar as his own office, and more on his mind. Yet Danthes was two years in Dachau, and so has experienced Europe at its most barbarous. The two sides of Europe are pulling him apart.

So too is his complex relationship with two women (or are they the same?)…. The two women represent the two sides of Europe and Danthes' relationship with them leads to his final crisis.

Much of what happens in the book turns out to be illusion—or does it? There's a lot of playing with mirrors here, excursions into witchery and into past centuries, convoluted schemes of revenge, maneuvers for position on the chessboard of fate. But the plot is overwhelmed by pages laden, leaden rather, with cultural references.

Patrick Breslin, "'Europa'," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1978, The Washington Post), July 9, 1978, p. E6.