Saturday, November 17, 2007

His mother's son

On December 2nd, 1980, Romain Gary lay down in his Paris apartment, a synagogue-size menorah at the foot of the bed, and put a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson in his mouth. Seconds later, the life of one of France's most celebrated and prolific novelists a decorated war hero, globe-trotting diplomat, and notorious lothario was over. But this was more than suicide: It was the final act of mythmaking from a man preoccupied, above all, with manipulating the people and events in his life almost as deftly as those in his books.
Self-invention means blurring the facts; it is only thanks to Gary's biographer (and former lover), novelist Myriam Anissimov, that the details of his origins have been confirmed. He was born Roman Kacew in May 1914, in Vilna, Lithuania. His parents, Nina and Lebja Kacew, were Russian Jews, which contradicts Gary's various stories about being of Tartar or Cossack descent on his father's side, or the love-child of actor Ivan Mosjoukine. In reality, Lebja walked out on Roman and his mother, a former actress, when the boy was ten. Without a husband, Nina immortalized in the memoir Promise at Dawn, Gary's embellished masterpiece about their relationship invested all her energy into shaping her son's destiny. Call her the showbiz mother from hell: Her own career cut short, she was determined that fame would be visited on her son. (more from Nextbook)

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