Gary (Originally Kacew), Romain

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GARY (originally Kacew), ROMAIN

GARY (originally Kacew ), ROMAIN (1914–1980), French novelist. Gary, who was of mixed parentage, "part Cossack and Tartar, part Jew" to use his own phrase, was born in Vilna. When he was seven, his family moved to Poland and finally, in 1926, to Nice. He was a fighter pilot in the French Air Force at the outbreak of World War ii, and then joined De Gaulle's Free French in England in 1940. After the liberation, he entered the French diplomatic service. His final appointment was that of consul-general in Los Angeles (1956–60).

Gary's first novel Education européenne (1945; Forest of Anger, 1944, reissued as A European Education, 1960) includes many elements of Jewish interest, notably the description of a clandestine Friday evening service held by Jewish underground fighters. His other novels include Tulipe (1946); Le grand vestiaire (1948; The Company of Men, 1950); Les Racines du ciel (1956; The Roots of Heaven, 1958), an adventure story about a group of idealists bent on saving a herd of elephants from hunters, which won the Prix Goncourt; La Promesse de l'aube (1960; Promise at Dawn, 1961), memories of the author's Jewish mother; and Le Mangeur d'étoiles (1966; The Talent Scout, 1961). Two works which first appeared in English are Lady L (1958), a social satire, and The Ski Bum (1965). Jewish characters constantly make an appearance in Gary's novels, but they were mostly viewed from the outside until the writer's traumatic experience in a Warsaw war museum savagely wakened him to reality. La Danse de Gengis Cohn (1967; The Dance of Genghis Cohn, 1969), the title of which sardonically reflects Gary's own ancestry and predicament, tells with cruel humor the story of a Jewish comedian shot by the Nazis, who relentlessly haunts his executioner. He also wrote La Tête Coupable (1968; The Guilty Head, 1969).


C. Lehrmann, L'Elément juif dans la littérature française, 2 (1961), 198–205; Livres de France, 18 no. 3 (1967), special issue devoted to Gary. add. bibliography: D. Bona, Romain Gary (1987); J.-M. Catonné, Romain Gary, Emile Ajar (1990); P. Bayard, Il était deux fois Romain Gary (1990); N. Huston, Tombeaude Romain Gary (1995); F. Larat, Romain Gary: un itinéraire européen: essai biographique (1999); R.W. Schoolcraft, Romain Gary: The Man Who Sold His Shadow (2002); M. Anissimov, Romain Gary, le caméléon (2004).

[Moshe Catane]