Romain Gary

Romain Gary

French writer, screenwriter and director
Date of Birth: 08.05.1914
Country: France

  1. Biography of Romain Gary
  2. Early Life
  3. Personal Life
  4. Later Life and Legacy

Biography of Romain Gary

Romain Gary was a French writer, screenwriter, and film director, best known for his book "The Sad Clowns". Born on May 8, 1914, in Moscow (according to some sources - Vilnius), he was a legendary figure, a French writer of Russian origin, one of the most brilliant and mysterious writers of the 20th century. He was the only double winner of the Goncourt Prize, the highest literary award in France, a military pilot and a member of the Resistance, a diplomat, and a film director.

Gary was incredibly talented, his native language was Russian, then he switched to Polish, and most of his books were written in French. He also wrote six novels in English and then translated them into French himself. He directed films based on his own books, which were then banned in France. He served as a French diplomat, working in embassies in Sofia, Bern, and London, and as Consul General of France in Los Angeles. He was a hero of the Resistance and a friend of Charles de Gaulle. He became the author of one of the most grandiose hoaxes of the 20th century and he himself became a myth.

Early Life

Romain Gary's life is a beautiful story. From the moment of his birth, his name was surrounded by legends. His father was most likely the famous actor of Russian silent cinema, the heartthrob Ivan Mozzhukhin. His mother, Nina Borisovskaya, served as an actress in the Moscow French Theater. Despite being a national hero of France, a knight of the Legion of Honor, and a French writer with worldwide fame, Gary did not have a drop of French blood. He once said, "...two things from my forgotten Russian childhood somehow settled firmly in my nature as habits. I love Russian-style salted cucumbers without vinegar, and rye bread with caraway seeds... It is probably much easier to find a bottle of real Bordeaux in Moscow than to find Russian salted cucumbers in Paris, but I have to do it regularly..."

In 1921, Nina Borisovskaya, seeking to escape the cold, hunger, typhus, and other charms of the revolution, fled with her son from Soviet Russia. They lived in Vilnius, which at that time belonged to Poland, for seven and a half years, then moved to Warsaw, and then to Nice. Like most emigrants from Russia, the mother and son initially experienced significant difficulties. After college, Gary chose a career as a military pilot. When France capitulated, 26-year-old Gary found himself in the ranks of the "Fighting France" movement led by Charles de Gaulle. Gary fought bravely, risking his life many times and getting out of completely unbelievable situations. For his military merits, he received the Legion of Honor and the rank of major in the French Air Force. He wrote his first novel, "European Education," during breaks between battles. Here is just one example from Gary's military biography: on November 23, 1943, as a navigator, he flew on a "Boston" bomber together with a pilot and a radio operator to bomb German factories. The plane entered the anti-aircraft fire zone, and Gary felt that he was wounded in the stomach. And then, in the headphones, the cold voice of the pilot Lange was heard: "I am wounded. I can't see anything. I am blind." The pilot's cabin was separated by a steel partition, it was impossible to get there... The crew decided to continue flying and bombing the target, with the wounded Gary passing commands to the blind pilot... Then, the crew turned back towards England. They wanted to parachute over England, but the pilot's cabin got stuck... And then they decided to land (obviously, the option to jump, leaving the helpless pilot in the plane, was not considered). Gary continued to transmit commands to the blind pilot, and on the third attempt, they landed the plane. This was the first case in the history of the French Air Force when a blind pilot landed a plane according to the instructions of the navigator.

Personal Life

The death of his mother was a great tragedy in Gary's life. Throughout the war, he received letters from her, believing that she was alive... And only after the victory, Gary learned that his mother had been dead for a long time, and she had written all the letters in advance, foreseeing her imminent death, and sent them through a neighbor "so that the boy could fight peacefully and not think about anything." Gary described the story of his relationship with his mother in one of his best books, "Promise at Dawn". This book became an anthem to a son's love... "You know, mothers are never given what they deserve. At least mine had the right to a book..." Gary said about the origin of his pseudonym that it was the imperative mood of the Russian verb "to burn," and the name Roman transformed into the French Romain, and "burn" became Gary.

Gary's first wife was the English writer Leslie Blanch. When they separated, Gary dedicated his book "Lady L." to her, which he wrote in English. The character of the heroine was clearly based on Leslie. But his main and most tragic love was the American actress Jean Seberg (many remember her for her leading role in Jean-Luc Godard's film "Breathless"). When they met, Jean was 21 years old, and Gary was 45. They got married and had a son. They divorced a few years later... In 1979, unable to recover from the tragic death of their daughter, rumors of whose paternity were spread in the press, Jean took her own life (this is the official version, Gary believed she was murdered). Gary almost stopped writing and a year later shot himself in the head... Jean can be seen in many of Gary's heroines, in the American woman from "The Gourmets," in the protagonist of the wonderful story "Birds Come to Die in Peru" (this story was recognized as the best story of 1964). Gary made a film adaptation of it, with Jean playing the lead role. This film was banned in France on absurd charges of pornography...

Later Life and Legacy

Gary hated totalitarian regimes, especially after his friend Petkov, the leader of the democratic wing of the Communist Party in Bulgaria, was executed, but he never joined any political party. "I would willingly take someone's side," he once said, "but every side stinks."

In the mid-1970s, critics suddenly turned away from Gary, "trendy" magazines started spreading rumors that he had "run out of ideas." Initially, Gary had no intention of starting the grandiose hoax that later shook the literary world. He wrote the book "Gros calin" and at the last moment decided to publish it under a new pseudonym - Emile Ajar. The book was a huge success, and Gary decided to keep the secret. He always loved pranks and hoaxes. And he continued to write under two pseudonyms. Ajar was considered a young author (later Gary passed him off as his nephew), skillful French critics praised Ajar and criticized Gary, and they were even compared in terms of style... And Gary enjoyed it...

Ajar's first book was nominated for the prestigious Renaudot Prize. Through a lawyer, the publishing house that released it signed a contract with the young author for five books. The following year, Ajar released a new novel, "The Life Before Us". The story takes place in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. An old, out-of-print prostitute, Madame Rosa, a Polish Jew who survived a concentration camp, takes care of the children of prostitutes. Among her wards is an Arab boy named Mohammed (Momo). The relationship between the old Jewish woman and the Arab boy became the plot of this undisputed masterpiece. The book was nominated for the Goncourt Prize and unanimously won (according to the rules, this prize can only be awarded to a person once, making Gary the only person in history to receive two Goncourt Prizes). A film based on the book was immediately made, with Simone Signoret in the lead role. Signoret received the Cesar Award for this role. Universal acclaim provoked various rumors, one of which was propagated by Gary himself: "I spoke with a woman who had a love affair with Ajar. According to her, he was splendid in bed... I'm glad I didn't disappoint her..."

Gary continued to keep the secret, and all the details of this hoax became known only after his death when his essay "Life and Death of Emile Ajar" was found. On December 2, 1980, at his home on rue du Bac, Gary shot himself in the head... It is said that even at that moment, he displayed his characteristic delicacy - in order not to shock anyone with an unpleasant sight, he waited until he was alone, put on a red bathing cap, and shot himself in the mouth. He died instantly, without any death throes or splattered brains...

Gary's funeral took place in the military church of the Invalides, where prominent military leaders of France are laid to rest, and where Napoleon's tomb is located. All of de Gaulle's associates, renowned military leaders, writers, and politicians were present... The priest refused to conduct the mass - the deceased was a suicide and did not adhere to any religion. They first performed "La Marseillaise," and then unexpectedly, a song was sung by the church choir... According to Gary's last will, his last, posthumous irony, the song "Lilac Negro" was played. Except for the Polish singer who performed the song, no one understood Russian. The mournful French stood and thought they were listening to Russian Orthodox music...

To fully appreciate Gary's last sad irony, one must remember that at one time, the lover of Jean Seberg was considered the leader of the Black Panther Party, a black terrorist organization...

Romain Gary's works, published under the pseudonym Romain Gary:
- "European Education" (1945)
- "Tulip" (1946)
- "The Grand Dressing Room" (1949)
- "The Colors of the Day" (1952)
- "The Roots of Heaven" (1956) (Goncourt Prize)
- "Promise at Dawn" (1960)
- "Johnie Coeur" (1961)
- "Glory to Our Illustrious Pioneers" (1962) (short stories)
- "Lady L." (1963)
- "The Ski Bum" (1965)
- "For Sganarelle" (1965) (essays)
- "Star Eaters" (1966)
- "The Dance of Genghis Cohn" (1967)
- "The Guilty Head" (1968)
- "Goodbye Gary Cooper!" (1969)
- "White Dog" (1970)
- "The Treasures of the Red Sea" (1971)
- "Europe" (1972)
- "The Enchanters" (1973)
- "The Night Will Be Calm" (1974) (interviews)
- "Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid" (1975)
- "Light of Woman" (1977)
- "Charge of the Soul" (1977)
- "The Good Half" (1979)
- "The Sad Clowns" (1979)
- "Kites" (1980)
- "Life and Death of Emile Ajar" (1981) (essays)
- "The Man with the Dove" (1984) (full version)

Works published under the pseudonym Emile Ajar:
- "Gros calin" (1974)
- "The Life Before Us" (1975) (Goncourt Prize)
- "Pseudo" (1976)
- "The Anxiety of King Solomon" (1979)

Works published under the pseudonym Fosco Sinibaldi:
- "The Man with the Dove" (1958)

Works published under the pseudonym Shatan Boga:
- "The Heads of Stephanie" (1974)