The Life before Us (La Vie devant soi) portrays a heartbreaking parental love story between a sensitive and prematurely wise boy, the child of a prostitute, and his adoptive mother who is an ex-prostitute.
In this novel, Romain Gary wrote with great compassion for the pimps, the prostitutes, the travesties, the poor, the sick, the abandoned children, the old, the Jews, and the Arabs. In my opinion, this is how great literature should be – it shows the compassion, the empathy, and the humane side of people in dire situations in intelligent, captivating and witty prose. This is contrast to many other works in which the authors just showed off their little knowledge or pretentious writing skills. I guess I believe in art for life’s sake, not art for art’s sake.
Romain Gary was a French writer who won the Prix Goncourt in 1956 for his novel The Roots of Heaven (Racines du ciel). He won the prestigious prize again in 1975 with this novel under the pseudonym Émile Ajar.
Translated from the French by Ralph Manheim
Published in English in 1986 by New Directions Publishing
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