Romain Gary The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[M. Romain Gary's] The Colours of the Day was set in the highly civilized, sophisticated jungle of the South of France. Now looking for bigger game he has turned to elephants and made them the pretext for an unusual work [The Roots of Heaven] that is part adventure story, part fable and part the record of a philosophical search for an answer to the increasing materialism of the world….

From the start M. Gary treats Morel as a legendary figure and as a result he remains rather indistinct as a person while being fully appreciable as a force….

In his own attitude, which sets the tone of the book, M. Gary might possibly be described as a realistic romantic, since he has a journalistic eye for, and knowledge of, the sufferings and problems of the contemporary world, and yet remains an invincible optimist and believer in mankind. He has also a welcome sense of humour which several times rescues him when he is in danger of becoming pretentious. Sometimes he does in fact step over the border of absurdity, as when he imagines a conversation on the subject of the elephants in the shadow of the Kremlin; at others his piecemeal method of presenting his story makes it in places unnecessarily obscure, and he might well have condensed it without loss. But while one is not quite prepared to endorse his publisher's claim that he has written a "truly great book," M. Gary has undoubtedly written a highly original, stimulating and on the whole heartening novel.

"Elephants and Men," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1958; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2914, March 7, 1958, p. 125.∗