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  • Published: 15 November 2010
  • ISBN: 9781446402863
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 528

Romain Gary

A Tall Story

The many lives and guises of a bestselling author and international celebrity.

Airman, war hero, immigrant, law student, diplomat, novelist and celebrity spouse, Romain Gary had several lives thrust upon him by the history of the twentieth century, but he also aspired to lead many more. He wrote more than two dozen books and a score of short stories under several different names in two languages, English and French, neither of which was his mother tongue. Gary had a gift for narrative that endeared him to ordinary readers, but won him little respect among critics far more intellectual than he could ever be. His varied and entertaining writing career tells a different story about the making of modern literary culture from the one we are accustomed to hearing.

Born Roman Kacew in Vilna (now Lithuania) in 1914 and raised by only his mother after his father left them, Gary rose to become French Consul General in Los Angeles and the only man ever to win the Goncourt Prize twice.

This biography follows the many threads that lead from Gary's wartime adventures and early literary career to his years in Hollywood and his marriage to the actress Jean Seberg. It illuminates his works in all their incarnations, and culminates in the tale of his most brilliant deception: the fabrication of a complex identity for his most successful nom de plume, Émile Ajar.

In his new portrait of Gary, David Bellos brings biographical research together with literary and cultural analysis to make sense of the many lives of Romain Gary - a hero fit for our times, as well as his own.

  • Published: 15 November 2010
  • ISBN: 9781446402863
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 528

About the author

David Bellos

David Bellos had his first taste of translation when he read a Penguin Classics edition of Crime and Punishment while sitting in the attendant's hut in the car park at Southend Airport; that same summer, he got his first interpreting job – helping a seafood seller to import Portuguese oysters from a middleman in France. He went on to teach French language and literature at Edinburgh, Southampton and Manchester, but it was only when he encountered Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual and was so convinced it should be read in English that he dared to think he too could become a translator. Since then he has translated many books from French and won numerous prizes, including the first Man Booker International Translator's Award and the Goncourt Prize for biography for the French translation of Georges Perec: A Life in Words. He is now Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Princeton, where her directs the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. He clings to the view that even the most difficult and complicated things can be spoken of in plain and comprehensible prose.

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Praise for Romain Gary

Heroically well-researched and hugely entertaining

Gilbert Adair, The Spectator

Alert, riveting, [and] wonderfully fluent biography

David Coward, Independent

This book's dash and drive match its subject in a captivating tour of a life - and an epoch.

Boyd Tonkin, Independent

David Bellos stylishly presents the scandal-strewn career of a rebel French writer. His dash and drive show that there need be nothing stuffy about formal biography.


Compelling...a masterpiece of detective investigation.

Literary Review

[David Bellos] has cleverly used [Gary's] life to investigate the connections between a writer's fiction and his autobiography, and as an excuse for some very funny digs at literary fame, fortune and fashion.

Josh Lacey, Guardian

Bellos manages to prise a real autobiography out of all the mystification

The Tablet

As well as being an impressive work of scholarship...this is a profound book in its examination of what it means to invent oneself.

Ian Pinder, Times Literary Supplement