Lapierre, Dominique 1931-
LAPIERRE, Dominique 1931-
PERSONAL: Born July 30, 1931, in Chatelaillon, France; son of Jean (a diplomat) and Luce (Andreotti) Lapierre; married Aliette Spitzer, August 4, 1952; children: Alexandra. Education: Attended Institut des Sciences Politiques, Paris, 1951; Lafayette College, B.A., 1952. Religion: Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, horseback riding.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—26 Avenue Kleber, 75116 Paris, France. Agent—Morton L. Janklow, 598 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10021.
CAREER: Paris Match (magazine), Paris, France, war correspondent in Korea, 1953, editor, 1954-67; writer, 1967—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grand prize, Fondation des bourses de Zellidja, 1949, for a study on Mexico and the United States; Christopher Award, 1986, for The City of Joy; Christopher Award in books for adults category, 2003, for Five Past Midnight in Bhopal.
Un Dollar les mille kilometres (title means "A Dollar for One Thousand Kilometers"), Grasset (Paris, France), 1950.
Lune de miel autour de la terre, preface by Andre Maurois, Grasset (Paris, France), 1953, translation by Helen Beauclerk published as Honeymoon around the World, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1957.
En Liberte sur les routes d'U.R.S.S. (title means "Freely on Soviet Highways"), Grasset (Paris, France), 1957.
Russie portes ouvertes (title means "Open Doors to Soviet Russia"), Editions Vie (Lausanne, Switzerland), 1957.
(With Stephane Groueff) Les Caids de New York (title means "The New York Bosses"), Julliard (Paris, France), 1958.
Chessman m'a dit (title means "Chessman Told Me"), Del Duca (Paris, France), 1960.
(With Stephane Groueff) Les Ministres du crime (title means "The Ministers of Crime"), Julliard, 1969.
The City of Joy, translated from the French by Kathryn Spink, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.
Beyond Love (Literary Guild selection), translated from the French by Kathryn Spink, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1991.
A Thousand Suns, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Javier Moro) Il etait minuit cinq a Bhopal, Laffont (Paris, France), 2001, translated from the French by Kathryn Spink, published as Five past Midnight in Bhopal, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2002.
WITH LARRY COLLINS
Paris brule-t-il?, Laffont (Paris, France), 1964, published as Is Paris Burning? (Literary Guild selection), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1965.
Ou tu porteras mon deuil, Laffont (Paris, France), 1967, published as Or I'll Dress You in Mourning (Book-of-the-Month Club selection), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1968.
O Jerusalem!, Laffont (Paris, France), 1971, reprinted, (Literary Guild selection), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1988.
Cette nuit la liberte, Laffont, 1975, published as Freedom at Midnight (Literary Guild selection), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1975.
Le Cinquieme Cavalier (novel), Laffont, 1980, published as The Fifth Horseman (Literary Guild selection), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980.
Mountbatten and the Partition of India, Vikas (New Delhi, India), 1982.
Mountbatten and Independent India, Vikas (New Delhi, India), 1983.
Also author of filmscript adaptation of O Jerusalem!
ADAPTATIONS: Is Paris Burning? was adapted for film and released by Paramount, 1965; The City of Joy was adapted for film and released by Tri-Star, 1992; Paramount holds the film option for The Fifth Horseman.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A new book; a film on Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
SIDELIGHTS: Dominique Lapierre told CA: "My main professional interest is to bring back to life great moments of our contemporary history. I am interested in the great modern epics of humanity. History has the reputation to be dull: It's not dull if only you devote enough time and sweat to bring it back to life. I consider myself a historian using the modern technique of investigative journalism. My books are as thoroughly and seriously researched as the most serious history books, and in this sense can be of use to professional, or rather, to 'scholarly' historians. But because of the dramatic nature of their subjects and their kaleidoscopic treatment, they are also very popular with the general public."
Many of Lapierre's books have indeed been immensely popular with the general public, reaching best-seller lists in Europe and the United States. The author is best known for his work with American writer Larry Collins; their collaborative titles include Is Paris Burning?, O Jerusalem!, and the novel The Fifth Horseman. A journalist who turned exclusively to full-length book projects in 1967, Lapierre is perhaps one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful authors in the field of historical documentary nonfiction.
In 1981, subsequent to the publication of The Fifth Horseman, Lapierre and his wife traveled to Calcutta, India, to visit a home they had sponsored for children of leprosy victims. During their stay in the city, Mother Teresa took the Lapierres to one of the world's worst slums, an area of Calcutta the name of which translates as "The City of Joy." Despite the fact that hordes of people living in the City of Joy subsisted on less than ten cents a day, Lapierre witnessed tremendous happiness and joy there. He decided to chronicle life in the slum from the points of view of three people: a Bengali peasant struggling to earn a living there, a Polish priest devoting his life to the poor, and an American doctor generously battling the area's many deadly diseases. Lapierre's book The City of Joy was published in 1985, a year later received the prestigious Christopher Award, and has sold more than seven million copies in thirty-one languages and editions, including five editions in Braille.
As Rumer Godden noted in the New York Times Book Review, The City of Joy "is about suffering, sorrow, cruelty and deprivation; about practices so hideous as almost to suspend belief, though they are shockingly true. It is about filth, rags, wounds, disease, even leprosy." Yet, wrote Godden, "the book is about other words that wonderfully leaven the whole: loyalty, kindness, tolerance, generosity, patience, endurance, acceptance, faith, even holiness. And it is about such love that we cannot pass by on the other side. In any case, it is too fascinating to let us do that." Godden also felt that the book is, in a sense, "too overwhelming. It tells so much that the mind becomes numbed, as happens in a famine or cyclone . . . when compassion ceases simply because the heart can take no more." In a Washington Post Book World review of The City of Joy, Elisabeth Bumiller expressed the opinion that Lapierre "has actually managed to describe the poor from their own point of view. This is a remarkable feat." Though Bumiller felt that the author "sometimes over-romanticizes the struggle of the poor . . . , diminishing their real pain and integrity," she nonetheless concluded: "The City of Joy is full of basic truths. Some of its moments may stay with a reader forever. . . . This book contains great lessons of resilience and dignity, and of what is really important when life is pared down to its essence. The City of Joy will make anyone a little richer for having read it."
Lapierre recently noted that he supports five homes for five hundred children of lepers in Calcutta, "along with a whole humanitarian action including dispensaries, schools, rehabilitation centers for lepers, irrigation programs, etc., funded with my royalties from The City of Joy and donations from my readers." Lapierre "calculates that he has spent $5 million on his small and largely unpublicized projects" designed to help the Indian people, wrote Barbara Crossette in the New York Times. Some of these assistance projects have been out of the ordinary, such as giving "poor village women small dowries to allow them to marry a bit above the lowest rungs of life," Crossette remarked.
In addition to the personal and individual difficulties suffered throughout India, Lapierre and writing collaborator Javier Moro are also keenly aware of the large-scale injustices that have been inflicted on the people of India—and at least one event that could easily be called an atrocity. In Five past Midnight in Bhopal, Lapierre and Moro recount in great detail the December 3, 1984 deaths of thousands of Bhopal residents—and the poisoning of more than half a million others—in a chemical accident at Union Carbide's pesticide plant. Using a more novel-like structure, rather than a strict linear, historical account, Lapierre and Moro reconstruct decisions, events, and even dialogue that led up to the tragedy.
Most damning in Lapierre and Moro's account is that the accident could have been avoided. "But words such as 'accident' and 'tragedy' often imply a work of fate," wrote William K. Tabb in OnEarth. "More accurately, what happened that night was a result of [Union] Carbide's decision to cut back on necessary maintenance in order to save money at a plant that had, despite great opening fanfare, proven to be a financial disappointment." Originally intended to produce Sevin, an agricultural insecticide designed to bring dramatic improvements in India's crop production, the plant saw lower than anticipated profits. The company's "workers and management took shortcuts in equipping the Bhopal plant with modern safety features and in observing proper procedures for storing deadly methyl isocyanate" (MIC), a key ingredient in Sevin, wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic. Storage tanks lacked proper pressurization and refrigeration; alarm systems had been disconnected, and safety systems were nonfuctional. And one tank alone was overfilled with MIC, in violation of Union Carbide's own safety standards, containing too much of the deadly chemical "to allow for an emergency infusion of solvent to stop any runaway chemical reactions," Tabb wrote.
The result was a poisonous cloud that erupted from the Union Carbide plant at five minutes past midnight on December 3, 1984. It immediately suffused the slum areas of Bhopal surrounding the plant and traveled quickly outward. The death toll rose to as many as 30,000, and effects of the contamination are still seen in the health of the residents who were forced by circumstances to remain in the area. A settlement by Union Carbide resulted in payments of about $1,400 per victim, Tabb wrote, and Interpol warrants for the arrest of key figures at Union Carbide remain unserved.
"This account of one of the worst public health disasters of the past twenty years makes for uncomfortable, even scary reading, but it is simultaneously unputdownable," wrote Birte Twisselmann in the British Medical Journal. "The book thunders along, never losing any of its momentum, and the point at which it all 'goes up into the air' is tangible in its horror," remarked Twisselmann. John F. Riddick, writing inLibrary Journal, called the book "a passionate, suspenseful, even vengeful account" of the event.
Even in the face of the tragedy and misery he has seen throughout India, Lapierre expresses optimism. Responding to a question during an interview in Geographical about what he enjoyed about the world, Lapierre replied, "Its extraordinary variety. I'm always looking for fifteen minutes more in every hour. You need ten incarnations to enjoy everything the world has to offer. I like the idea that the world never stops, that you are never bored."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 2002, David Pitt, review of Five past Midnight in Bhopal, p. 1362.
British Medical Journal, September 7, 2002, Birte Twisselmann, review of Five past Midnight in Bhopal, p. 552.
Businessline, September 13, 2001, review of Five past Midnight in Bhopal, p. 1.
Far Eastern Economic Review, November 29, 2001, Shailaja Neelakantan, "Poison in the Night," pp. 76-77.
Geographical, September, 2000, interview with Dominique Lapierre, p. 114.
Guardian (Manchester, England), April 15, 2000, Hugo Young, "Words Were Not Enough," p. 22.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2002, review of Five past Midnight in Bhopal, p. 385.
Kliatt, September, 2003, Katherine E. Gillen, review of Five past Midnight in Bhopal, pp. 39-40.
Library Journal, May 15, 2002, John F. Riddick, review of Five past Midnight in Bhopal, p. 109.
New York Times, August 22, 1999, Barbara Crossette, "In Calcutta, Writer's Joy Is in Deeds, Not Words," p. 16.
New York Times Book Review, November 3, 1985, Rumer Godden, review of The City of Joy; April 18, 1999, Ford Burkhart, review of A Thousand Suns, p. 20.
OnEarth, fall, 2002, William K. Tabb, review of Five past Midnight in Bhopal, pp. 37-39.
Publishers Weekly, February 1, 1999, review of A Thousand Suns, p. 67; April 22, 2002, review of Five past Midnight in Bhopal, p. 65.
Time, May 3, 1999, Jesse Birnbaum, review of A Thousand Suns, p. 78.
Times Literary Supplement, June 7, 2002, Toby Green, review of Five past Midnight in Bhopal, p. 30.
Washington Post Book World, October 27, 1985, Elisabeth Bumiller, review of The City of Joy.
City of Joy Web site,http://www.cityofjoyaid.org/ (November 14, 2003), biography of Dominique Lapierre.
Time Warner Bookmark Web site,http://www.twbookmark.com/ (November 14, 2003), biography of Dominique Lapierre.
Udayan Web site,http://www.udayan.org/lapierre.html/ (November 14, 2003), "Dominique Lapierre and The City of Joy."*