KING SOLOMON by Romain Gary


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When Gary (The Roots of Heaven, Europa) committed suicide in 1980, it was revealed that he was also the author, under the pseudonym Emile Ajar, of four novels--including the award-winning book published here as Momo (1978) and filmed with Simone Signoret as Madame Rosa. This, then, is the last of the Ajar/Gary novels, though only the second to appear in English (along with, as postscript, Gary's brief posthumous account of the Ajar hoax). Again, as in Momo, Gary's narrator is young and streetwise: big, handsome taxi-driver Jean, who one day picks up 84-year-old Mr. Solomon, a dapper, wealthy gent devoted to helping the unfortunate--in a world full of ""injustice,"" a world forsaken by a cruel God. Most of Solomon's apartment has been turned over to a suicide-hotline service. He hires Jean to be his fulltime driver/errand-boy, delivering anonymous gifts to those fallen on hard times. And Jean's primary assignment consists of visits to Mademoiselle Cora Lamenaire, an acclaimed, Piaf-like singer whose career went downhill after her wartime affair with a Gestapo officer. (Solomon, an old flame, has never forgiven his WW II protector Cora--yet takes long-distance care of her.) Jean, infected with Solomon's do-gooder ""anguish"" over God's cruelty, is determined to salvage Mlle. Cora; he takes her to a disco, where she insists on performing (part embarrassment, part glory); he even becomes the stylish but forgotten sexagenarian's lover, a philosophical ""act of love"" that Cora takes too personally. (""I. . . threw her on the bed and fucked her twice running without withdrawing, and not only her but the whole world with all its Black Marias and prison cells. . . . After that, I was completely emptied of injustice and anger."") But finally Jean manages to shift Cora's unwanted devotion to Solomon himself--with delicate negotiations that bring the elderly lovers back together in mutual forgiveness (while Jean settles down with sophisticated young book-seller Aline). Gary doesn't really bring off this uneasy mixture of festering pessimism and fable-like uplift; the themes are laid on with repetitious, labored emphasis, while Jean's vaguely slangy narration (""pad,"" ""chicks,"" ""dolls"") doesn't provide the vivid immediacy of Memo. Yet there's a distinct, if sporadic, haunting quality to this uneven final work--an edgy, powerful sense of a writer fending off total despair with hope, nostalgia, and Gallic charm.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1983
Publisher: Harper & Row