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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.


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

Heroically well-researched and hugely entertaining

Gilbert Adair, The Spectator

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Formats & editions

  • EBook


    November 15, 2010

    Vintage Digital

    528 pages

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