The Algerian Cucumber: Yearning in North Africa

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Would you also like to submit a review for this item? You already recently rated this item. Your rating has been recorded. Write a review Rate this item: 1 2 3 4 5. Preview this item Preview this item. Subjects Tunis Tunisia -- Fiction. They need elephants to fill the void. The Conradian speakers round the campfire have temporarily been forgotten. At one point an atomic scientist comes to Chad to throw his weight behind Morel. But it keeps being mentioned all the same. It was translated into English a year later under the supervision of its author, Romain Gary.

Sartre, Camus and Raymond Aron had praised his first book, a novel about Polish partisans, A European Education , but he had later lost his audience, producing — among other things — an eccentric satire on racism and a Parisian rewrite of Oliver Twist.

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Born Roman Kacew to Jewish parents in Vilnius, then part of the Russian empire, in , he grew up under Polish rule before moving to Nice with his mother in the late s. For the next 15 years he worked as a diplomat, with a stint in New York as a spokesman for the French delegation to the UN Security Council.

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A memoir detailing some of this, Promise at Dawn , went down well in France and America, and Gary felt able to leave the diplomatic service. She was 23; A bout de souffle had come out two years earlier. Seberg had many problems — with drugs and abusive men, principally, and later with J. His job, as he came to see it, was to help her hold things together, and he continued to try to do that even after they divorced in They carried on working together — in he directed her in a heartfelt flop about shooting drug dealers, Kill!

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Aficionados of broken hearts should apply elsewhere. He moved between markets and languages — Lady L. Gary was always good for a quote attacking Foucault or Robbe-Grillet, and he contrived to offend everyone when it came to such questions as Israel or Algeria. By the s he was unalterably fixed as a character: good copy, crazy outfits, strong opinions, but essentially an antiquated left Gaullist and a novelist with nothing new to say.

So he launched a parallel career under the name Emile Ajar, initially presented as a medical student who had escaped to Brazil after a brush with the law. George Saunders might be the best current analogue in English. Gary let his own publisher in on the secret but the rest of the firm was kept in the dark. It was narrated by Mohammed, nicknamed Momo, an Algerian orphan brought up in a Belleville slum by Madame Rosa, a Jewish former prostitute and concentration camp survivor who makes a living caring for unwanted children. The book is written in a macaronic street-kid argot which Gary dreamed up after wandering around an immigrant neighbourhood near Montmartre for a couple of hours.

Then the novel won the Prix Goncourt. By now the rumours were proliferating.

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Gary recruited a distant cousin called Paul Pavlowitch to play the part of the elusive novelist for the press, and an interview duly appeared in Le Monde. I was hugely relieved when on the appearance of my second book highly competent critics declared that Emile Ajar did not exist.

I cut out the articles and glued them on the walls that surround me. When I have any doubts or suspicions or external or respiratory symptoms, including perspiration, panic attacks, and other signs of life that occasionally fool even me, I sit down in my armchair, look around at these brotherly book reviews, stuff my meerschaum with British phlegm, and read and reread these attestations of unbeing, which should have been written on walls for thousands of years. When quizzed about that, Gary would say it was only natural for beginners to imitate older writers, then speak of his sadly under-recognised influence on the rising generation.

Au revoir et merci. In his lifetime Gary laid claim to quite a few identities.

The first published version of A European Education depicts its resistance fighters as Polish irredentists, though in later editions they stand for more all-purpose ideals. In nobly exiled moods he had no truck with Bolshevism, scoffed pickled cucumbers, wore large hats and borrowed extensively from Gogol and Dostoevsky.

He also nursed a complicated fantasy of having Tartar and Cossack blood, and of being an illegitimate son of Ivan Mosjoukine, an interwar star of Russian and French silent films.