VILNIUS (AFP)---Twenty-seven years after his death, the French novelist Romain Gary on Friday was honoured with a statue in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, where he was born a century ago.
The bronze monument was unveiled on the street where Gary lived as a child, Asta Dirmaite, general secretary of Lithuania’s national UNESCO commission, told AFP.
Sculpted by Lithuanian artist Romas Kvintas, it depicts a boy clasping a galosh, in a nod Gary’s 1960 work "La promesse de l’aube" (Promise at Dawn).
In the book, Gary recalled how, as a smitten nine-year-old, he tried to win the love of the girl next door by eating his rubber overshoe.
The statue was financed by members of the international "Litvak" community, who are Lithuanian-origin Jews, the state railway company and individuals from the Vilnius Romain Gary Club.
Gary was born Roman Kacew into a Jewish family in Vilnius on May 8, 1914, when Lithuania was still part of the Tsarist empire.
The melting-pot city likely planted the seeds for Gary’s later career and style, said Dirmaite, who is also a member of the club.
"Most probably his personality developed here in Vilnius, because his neighbors were Poles, Jews, Russians and Lithuanians," she said.
Gary lived in Vilnius until it became the capital of independent Lithuania after World War I, and spent several years in Poland before moving in the late 1920s to France and later becoming a French citizen.
A real humanist
"It’s a real pleasure that he was born in our city. He was a real humanist," said Dirmaite.
In 1945, Gary published his first novel, "Education europeenne" (A European Education) -- which, with "La promesse de l’aube", is his only work so far translated into Lithuanian, Dirmaite noted.
Gary served as a French diplomat from 1945-1961, before devoting himself entirely to writing.
He is the only person to have won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt twice, even though it is normally only awarded once to any author.
After winning in 1956 for "Les racines du ciel" (The Roots of Heaven), Gary repeated the feat in 1975 for "La vie devant soi" (The Life Before Us), which he had published under the pseudonym Emile Ajar.
Gary, who had served in the Free French air force during World War II, was also one of the screenwriters for the renowned 1962 film "The Longest Day," about the 1944 D-Day landings in France.
Gary committed suicide in Paris on December 2, 1980.