The Schmooze

The Furious Literary Prankster, Romain Gary

The Romain Gary French Cultural Center on Kikar Safra in West Jerusalem is named in honor of the French Jewish author, born Roman Kacew in Vilnius in 1914. His multi-faceted literary exploits have been explored in his own memoirs, in Ralph Schoolcraft’s astute 2002 study “Romain Gary: The Man Who Sold His Shadow” from University of Pennsylvania Press and in a new biography, “Romain Gary: A Tall Story” by David Bellos due out this December from Random House Canada.

Moving to Nice, France, as a teenager with his family, Gary ended up writing under a variety of different pen-names but is best remembered for his novel “The Life Before Us,” about an orphan Arab boy’s devotion to a terminally ill Auschwitz survivor and ex-prostitute. Filmed in 1977 by Israeli director Moshé Mizrahi as “Madame Rosa,” starring Simone Signoret, this affecting book remains in print from New Directions Publishers, as does Gary’s memoir of his youth, “Promise at Dawn,” itself filmed by Jules Dassin, a director of Russian Jewish ancestry, starring Assi Dayan as the 25-year-old Gary/Kacew.

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The Furious Literary Prankster, Romain Gary

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