The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

May 21, 2016

May 21, 1914

Romain Gary (May 21, 1914 to December  2, 1980), was born to Jewish parents in the place that became Lithuania. He and his mother moved to France, and it is as French he identified himself. He was an aviator for the Free French during the war. Later he served in the French diplomatic corps. He wrote many successful novels also, winning the Prix Goncourt for The Roots of Heaven, (the English title) in 1956. His wives were beautiful and intelligent women.

Our attention is drawn to his novel The White Dog (1970). This book, said to be autobiographical, includes these paragraphs about his pet Siamese cat, Mai. A friend has questioned the proportions of his grief over an ill animal, when there are people suffering elsewhere:

I kick them out, both him and the world.

Mai is no longer a cat. She is a human being in agony. Every living thing that suffers is an human being.  She is cuddled in my arms, a small ball of lackluster fur already smacking of taxidermists. Every now and then she raises her head and miaows a question I understand but am unable to answer. Our vocal chords are totally inadequate there.

What's going on with a mere cat, huh? I hate your guts, you ...hardheaded rationalists. You are the ones who have raised the rate on sensitivity. You have put all your emphasis on ideas, and ideas without "emotions" and "sentimentalism," that's the world you have built, your work.

Sometimes "the world" unfairly wins. Even then Gary has a surprise. In his suicide note Romain Gary mentions that he is the author of a second book that won the Prix Goncourt.

The rules preclude an author winning that prize more than once.  He wrote La vie devant soi under a pseudonym.  When this novel won in 1974 he became the only writer to win the Prix Goncourt two times.

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