by Paul Pavlovitch
Buchet-Chastel, 480 pages, €23.50
Fifty years ago, in the mid-1970s, an enigmatic, invisible and elusive author emerged, whose original and humorous tone in Gros Câlin was to shake up the world of letters. From his second title, Life in Front of Himself, he won the Prix Goncourt, without anyone really knowing who this novelist was. Rare photos appeared in the press. The author gave two interviews and then went back into the shadows, while continuing to write.
Why was he hiding? For years, the mystery remained unsolved. The truth broke out after the suicide of Romain Gary, on December 2, 1980. He had taken this nickname to confuse the critics who kept denying him any talent. Never had a writer obtained the Goncourt twice. The literary hoax had exceeded his expectations. He caused his misfortune.
To better hide, Romain Gary had propelled his little cousin, a certain Paul Pavlowitch, to the fore, who confessed, six months after this dramatic outcome. In The Man We Believed, the nominee told everything, dismantling the diabolical cogs of this incredible and romantic affair, just before Gallimard, taken aback, released Romain Gary’s posthumous testament, Vie et mort d’ ‘Émile Ajar, which ended with these words: “I had a good time. Good bye and thank you. »
Crushed by this identity theft, reducing it to nothing, Paul Pavlowitch will then sign several books that have remained without echo. “I got off track,” he said. I had only been a straw man. It was easy to step on me. And those who courted me resented me for their courtesy. Forty years later, at the age of 80, he reappears with a book of very illuminating memories on Romain Gary and the actress Jean Seberg, his second wife. The Ajar affair occupies only a small part of this work, just to remind us of Paul Pavlowitch’s meticulous instrumentalization and Romain Gary’s panic when his creature began to escape him.
An unpredictable and tormented cannibal
Gary could have benefited from having confounded his detractors, savored the pleasure of having obtained what he had always sought, the glowing recognition. His austere pride will push him to keep the secret and to kill himself before being unmasked. A year earlier, Jean Seberg had also committed suicide.
It is an understatement to say, on reading this book, that despair was the uniform of this great resistance fighter, the black coat which this shady seducer never managed to get rid of when everything was going well for him. Companion of the Liberation, prominent author, Prix Goncourt, French consul in Los Angeles, enjoying the friendship of General de Gaulle, he could not overcome what undermined him. Always in search of legitimacy, subject to chronic depressions, he clung to writing. “Romain only lived in his fictions, insists his little cousin. He had come to believe that inventing Ajar would give him extra life. »
Paul Pavlowitch signs a beautiful evocation of this whimsical family of Lithuanian Jews in exile in Nice, of his closeness to this prestigious elder, of Romain’s first wife, Lady L., then of the fragile and solitary Jean Seberg, swallowed up by his anxieties . And brushes, by successive keys, the contrasting portrait of a Romain Gary in unpredictable cannibal weighed down by unfathomable torments.
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