Anne Slater's Reviews > La vie devant soi

La vie devant soi by Romain Gary
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's review
Nov 04, 11

it was amazing
Recommended for: anyone who reads French
Read from October 28 to November 04, 2011

This is an amazing book. No wonder it won the Prix Goncourt in 1975.
It stands the test of time. Set in the 1970s in Belleville, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Paris. Momo, the son of a prostitute, has been taken care of all his life by Mme Rosa,Jewish, survivor of the Nazi "rafle" that swept the Jews of Paris to the Vel d'Hiver, herself a former prostitute. A woman of ill-repute who has seen to it that the Jewish child and Muslin child entrusted to her care are brought up as Jew and Muslim. She is dying, does not want to go to a hospital, fearing that she will be kept alive beyond her ability to enjoy life.

The story is told magnificently in the voice of Momo, ostensibly 10 years old. It is impossible to describe the beauty of Romain Gary's representation of a child's understanding of the terms and concepts of the adults around him.... I don;t know yet if there is an English translation. I'll have to check.

Other characters are Madame Lola, a Senegalese transvestite prostitute with a heart of gold; M Hamil, ancient Muslin, lover of Victor Hugo; the Zaoum brothers, burly guys who kindly carry Mme Rosa up and downstairs. Oh! They carry Dr Katz up and down too, as Mme Rosa's apartment is on the seventh floor (Momo-- If ever a woman deserved an elevator, it was Mme Rosa! Then there's Le Negre (no name, that's just what he is called), a not entirely with it guy who runs errands for people for a living. When he sees Mme Rosa, moribund and obese, he hands Momo a business card: "Free removal of large objects, call XXXXX" .

It is at once tragic and hilarious. And yes, there is a happy ending. And yes, this was made into the movie Madame Rosa, starring Simone Signoret


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