Romain Gary was a french author who I wish had been taught in the literature courses I took. I found out about him from the movie Promise at Dawn (2017). The movie captivated me. From beginning to end, it focuses on the love between a mother and her son. I also found out that the movie is based on Romain’s memoir.
Romain’s mother loves him with a selfish intensity, and Romain loves her back selflessly. When Romain is a boy he arrives home from an argument with a group of boys, and Romain’s mother yells at him for not defending her since they insulted her. She tells him that next time anyone insults her that he should fight back for her, even if fighting leads to his death. But death is the last thing that happens to him. He fights typhoid fever, becomes an aircraft pilot, and participates in a duel. His mother literally saves him from death twice.
The day Romain leaves his mother’s side to start his own life–and one might think that they might never part–at the last minute she boards his train to give him a snack for the ride. When the train starts to move and his mother is still in the train, Romain thinks that his mother will never let go of him, but he manages to safely help her off the train.
Even though he is finally out of the bounds of his mother, Romain does everything to fulfill the dreams she has for him. He writes to become the famous writer she always wanted him to be. He attempts to become a lieutenant, and when he isn’t able to because of his background, he comes up with the lie that he wasn’t promoted because he seduced the general’s wife. At one point, at the crazy request of his mother, he even travels to Germany with the purpose of killing Adolf Hitler.
After I finished watching the movie, I wanted to find out more about Romain’s life, and I found the article “Romain Gary: A Short Biography” by Madeleine Schwartz. I found that he wrote books under the pseudonym Emile Ajar after he’d become a successful author because he believed the critics were no longer taking him seriously. He’d heard of gossip in which people thought Romain felt envy for Emile Ajar’s success. Later, he admitted that he was Emile Ajar in the essay he left with his suicide note, and the joke was on the critics.
This son-and-mother relationship stood out to me because I’m used to reading about the mother-daughter relationship such as in Isabel Allende’s Paula and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I’m assuming that the book is better than the movie since the book has a 4.3 rating on Goodreads, and I’d love to read it one day.
Have you discovered a new writer or book through a movie?