Romain Gary

Romain Gary
Born Roman Kacew[1]
21 May 1914 (1914-05-21)
Vilnius, Russian Empire
(now Lithuania)
Died 2 December 1980 (1980-12-03) (aged 66)
Paris, France
Pen name Romain Gary, Émile Ajar, etc.
Occupation diplomat, pilot, writer
Nationality French
Citizenship France
Education Law
Alma mater Aix-en-Provence
Genre Novel
Notable works Les racines du ciel
La vie devant soi (as Émile Ajar)
Notable awards Prix Goncourt (1956 and 1975)
Spouse Lesley Blanch (1944–1961)
Jean Seberg (1962–1970)
Children 1

Literature portal

Romain Gary (French: [gaʁi]; 21 May [O.S. 8 May] 1914  2 December 1980), born Roman Kacew and also known by pen names such as Émile Ajar, was a French diplomat, novelist, film director and World War II aviator of Litvak origin. He is the only author to have won the Prix Goncourt under two different names.

Early life

Gary was born Roman Kacew (Yiddish: קצב, Russian: Рома́н Ка́цев) in Vilna, Russian Empire (now Vilnius, Lithuania).[1][2] In his books and interviews, he presented many different versions of his parents' origins, ancestry, occupation and his own childhood. His mother, Mina Owczyńska (1879—?),[1][3] was a Litvak actress from Švenčionys and his father was a businessman Arieh-Leib Kacew (1883—1942) from Trakai, also a Lithuanian Jew.[4][5] Arieh Leib abandoned the family in 1925 and remarried. Gary later claimed that his actual father was the celebrated actor and film star Ivan Mozzhukhin, with whom his actress mother had worked and to whom he bore a striking resemblance. Mozzhukhin appears in his memoir Promise at Dawn.[6] When Gary was fourteen, he and his mother moved to Nice, France. Converted to Catholicism by his mother, Gary studied law, first in Aix-en-Provence and then in Paris. He learned to pilot an aircraft in the French Air Force in Salon-de-Provence and in Avord Air Base, near Bourges.


Following the Nazi occupation of France in World War II, he fled to England and under Charles de Gaulle served with the Free French Forces in Europe and North Africa. As a bombardier-observer, he took part in over 25 successful sorties, logging over 65 hours of air time.[7] During this time, he changed his name to Romain Gary. He was decorated for his bravery in the war, receiving many medals and honours, including Compagnon de la Libération and commander of the Légion d'honneur. In 1945 he published his first novel, Education européenne. Immediately following his service in the war, he worked in the French diplomatic service in Bulgaria and Switzerland.[8] In 1952 he became the secretary of the French Delegation to the United Nations.[8] In 1956, he became Consul General in Los Angeles and became acquainted with Hollywood.[8]

Literary work

Gary became one of France's most popular and prolific writers, authoring more than thirty novels, essays and memoirs, some of which he wrote under a pseudonym.

He is the only person to win the Prix Goncourt twice. This prize for French language literature is awarded only once to an author. Gary, who had already received the prize in 1956 for Les racines du ciel, published La vie devant soi under the pseudonym Émile Ajar in 1975. The Académie Goncourt awarded the prize to the author of that book without knowing his identity. Gary's cousin's son Paul Pavlowitch posed as the author for a time. Gary later revealed the truth in his posthumous book Vie et mort d'Émile Ajar.[9] Gary also published as Shatan Bogat, Rene Deville and Fosco Sinibaldi, as well as his birth name Roman Kacew.[10][11]

In addition to his success as a novelist, he wrote the screenplay for the motion picture The Longest Day and co-wrote and directed the film Kill! (1971),[12] which starred his wife at the time, Jean Seberg. In 1979, he was a member of the jury at the 29th Berlin International Film Festival.[13]

Personal life and final years

Gary's first wife was the British writer, journalist, and Vogue editor Lesley Blanch, author of The Wilder Shores of Love. They married in 1944 and divorced in 1961. From 1962 to 1970, Gary was married to American actress Jean Seberg, with whom he had a son, Alexandre Diego Gary. According to Diego Gary, he was a distant presence as a father: "Even when he was around, my father wasn't there. Obsessed with his work, he used to greet me, but he was elsewhere."[14]

After learning that Jean Seberg had an affair with Clint Eastwood, Gary challenged him to a duel, but Eastwood declined.[15]

Gary died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on 2 December 1980 in Paris. He left a note which said that his death had no relation to Seberg's suicide the previous year. He also stated in his note that he was Émile Ajar.[16]

Gary was cremated in Père Lachaise Cemetery and his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean Sea near Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.[17]


As Romain Gary

As Émile Ajar

As Fosco Sinibaldi

As Shatan Bogat


As director

As screenwriter

Further reading


  1. 1 2 3 Ivry, Benjamin (21 January 2011). "A Chameleon on Show". Daily Forward.
  2. Romain Gary et la Lituanie Archived 26 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. Myriam Anissimov. Romain Gary, le Caméléon. Paris: Les éditions Folio Gallimard, 2004. ISBN 978-2-207-24835-5, pp. ??
  4. "Romain Gary". Encyclopédie sur la mort. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  5. Schoolcraft, Ralph W. (2002). Romain Gary: the man who sold his shadow. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 165. ISBN 0-8122-3646-7.
  6. Schwartz, Madeleine. "Romain Gary: A Short Biography". The Harvard Advocate.
  8. 1 2 3 Bellos, David (2010). Romain Gary: A Tall Story. pp. ??.
  9. Gary, Romain, Vie et mort d'Émile Ajar, Gallimard – NRF (17 juillet 1981), 42p, ISBN 978-2-07-026351-6.
  10. Lushenkova, Anna (2008). "La réinvention de l'homme par l'art et le rire: 'Les Enchanteurs' de Romain Gary". In Clément, Murielle Lucie. Écrivains franco-russes. Faux titre. 318. Rodopi. pp. 141–163. ISBN 90-420-2426-7.
  11. Di Folco, Philippe (2006). Les grandes impostures littéraires: canulars, escroqueries, supercheries, et autres mystifications. Écriture. pp. 111–113. ISBN 2-909240-70-3.
  12. Romain Gary on the IMDb website
  13. "Berlinale 1979: Juries". Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  14. Paris Match No.3136
  15. Bellos, David (12 November 2010). "Romain Gary: au revoir et merci". The Telegraph. UK.
  16. D. Bona, Romain Gary, Paris, Mercure de France-Lacombe, 1987, p. 397–398.
  17. Beyern, B., Guide des tombes d'hommes célèbres, Le Cherche Midi, 2008, ISBN 978-2-7491-1350-0
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