Romain Gary: Writer, Diplomat, Pilot and Son

He had no talent for playing the violin, but was full of promise with the paintbrush. But he was not allowed to make full use of it because of his mother’s fear that he could impoverish like all other painters like van Gogh. And he never accomplished to juggle the eighth object, as Enrico Rastelli (a well-known Italian juggler and example) did. So Roman Kacew had to become a famous and popular writer. Although his mother thought his name was the name of a virtuoso musician. As a writer, he had to find a pseudonym. His mother Nina was a dominant but loving woman who just wanted the best for her son. That was to become famous as a writer, eminent as a diplomat and to make her proud. At the age of 12, Roman spent his afternoons inventing a french pseudonym for his career as a writer and diplomat. He chose Romain Gary. However, shortly after, he heard a name on the radio on 22 June 1940, which he thought would have pleased his mother even more as a writer’s pseudonym : the name was Charles de Gaulle.

Gary was born on May 8 1914 in Moscow as Roman Kacew. He was the son of Nina Kacew, a Russian Jewess, and an unknown father. He grew up in Warsaw. In 1928, Roman and his francophile mother went to Nizza, where he finished school. At school in Warsaw he was bullied by his classmates due to his French attitude (a part of his mother’s strict education). After his baccalauréat, he went to Paris and Aix-en-Provence where he studied law until 1938. In the same year (he became French citizen in the 1930s) Romain began his military service in the French Army.

Bomber of the Lorraine Squadron

Bomber of the Lorraine Squadron

As early as 1940, he fled to London where he joined the General’s Free French Forces as a pilot in the Bomber-Squadron Lorraine and fought in North and Central Africa for the British RAF. After the training and before he and his comrades in the squadron, they had four days off to spend in London. Gary was accompanied by an annoying woman when he visited the Wellington, the meeting point for the allied pilots. Three Polish pilots, one after the other, asked her for a dance: an affront for Gary. When “Allied, English, Canadian, Norwegian, Dutch, Czech, Polish and Australian officers” (Gary) mocked at him, he started a fight. But the Polish pilots still not had enough: they challenged him to a duel. Gary won and he before he left, he insulted the three Poles in their own language.

Gary was in Gibraltar when the British fleet returned from Mers-El-Kébir where it sunk the proud French fleet. The British, “our last hope” (Gary) had answered with a Low Blow. In his biographical novel Promise at Dawn (1960), Gary describes his sentiments when he first heard about the French disaster in Mer-El-Kébir: he wanted to leave the English vessel on the way to Britain and he wished to kill the English General James Fownes Somerville, who lead the Operation Catapult. But he also realized that even though the operation was inexcusable, it showed the strength and England’s resolute conviction to fight on and win the war.

After the war, he became the diplomat his mother wanted him to be (unfortunately, she had died in 1941). Between 1946 and 1961, Gary worked in the Foreign Service and from 1956-1960 in Los Angeles as the French UN-Speaker. But first and last, he was a writer: His most popular book turned out to be Education Européenne, which he  wrote during the war and published in 1946. He won the Prix de Critique for this book, which deals with a Polish resistance group during the Second World War.

In 1980, he committed suicide. But he left a last Novel, L’homme que l’on croyait, which revealed another pseudonym of Roman Kacew. Since La vie deviant son, Gary had also wrote by the name of Émile Ajar, who had won the Prix Goncourt, too.


Gary, Romain, La Promesse de l’aube, Paris 1960.




OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
martenstein (May 18, 2018). Romain Gary: Writer, Diplomat, Pilot and Son. The London Moment. Retrieved July 18, 2024 from

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