Hocus Bogus Romain Gary Writing as Emile Ajar Romain Gary, Emile Ajar, David Bellos

The Margellos World Republic of Letters
Publication date:
23 Feb 2010
224 pages: 197 x 127 x 20mm

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By the early 1970s, Romain Gary had established himself as one of France's most popular and prolific novelists, journalists, and memoirists. Feeling that he had been typecast as 'Romain Gary', however, he wrote his next novel under the pseudonym Emile Ajar. His second novel written as Ajar, Life Before Us, was an instant runaway success, winning the Prix Goncourt and becoming the best-selling French novel of the twentieth century. The "Prix Goncourt" made people all the keener to identify the real 'Emile Ajar', and stressed by the furore he had created, Gary fled to Geneva. There, Pseudo, a hoax confession and one of the most alarmingly effective mystifications in all literature, was written at high speed. Writing under double cover, Gary simulated schizophrenia and paranoid delusions while pretending to be Paul Pawlovitch confessing to being Emile Ajar - the author of books Gary himself had written.

In Pseudo, brilliantly translated by David Bellos as Hocus Bogus, the struggle to assert and deny authorship is part of a wider protest against suffering and universal hypocrisy. Playing with novelistic categories and authorial voice, this work is a powerful testimony to the power of language - to express, to amuse, to deceive, and ultimately to speak difficult personal truths.

Romain Gary (1914-1980), a French novelist, film director, World War II aviator, and diplomat, was the author of more than thirty novels, essays, and recollections. David Bellos is professor of French and comparative literature and director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University.

Runner-Up for the 2011 PEN Translation Prize, as given by the PEN American Center