“Promise at Dawn” by Romain Gary
This novel, which is “inspired by autobiographical elements”, yet not an autobiographical story, highlights the unconditional and passionate maternal love of a woman who was the author-narrator’s mother. The story presents this mother as a woman devoted body and soul to her son whom she imagines predestined to a promising future.
What means the title “Promise at Dawn” ?
“With maternal love, life makes a promise at dawn that it can never hold. You are forced to eat cold food until your days end. After that, each time a woman holds you in her arms and against her chest, these are merely condolences.”
Romain Gary’s mother loves her son more than anything and she is totally convinced that he will become a great man, a famous artist or diplomat who will seduce all women. She shouts it from the rooftops, much to the discontent of her son, who is often embarrassed by these enthusiastic impulses. She sacrifices herself and exhausts herself in various tasks so that her son can eat to his hunger and pursue all possible studies and artistic trainings.
Can we blame a mother for so much love ?
This is the question which the author seems to constantly ask himself while remembering the marks of tenderness and passionate love of his mother. Indeed having benefited from this unconditional love makes it difficult for him to appreciate other women’s love that inevitably suffers by comparison.
According to the author-narrator, mother’s love should not focus on one single being but be directed to several persons. Considering this, the narrator tries to find a lover for his mother.
But is it really appropriate to compare maternal love to a sort of cheese cake, each part of which becoming smaller and smaller according to the increasing number of amateurs ? Or should we rather see this love as an indivisible entity that grows as the beings to love multiply ?
Recognition and tribute to maternal love
The narrator’s questions are ultimately an effective means of reminding us that maternal love, even if it may sometimes embarrass the interested person, represents a great asset for life.
Moreover, it is to be noted that the author-narrator has finally achieved the goals sought by his mother. Having had a brilliant diplomatic career and won the famous “Prix Goncourt” twice (once under the name of Romain Gary and another time under that of Emile Ajar), the author has finally fulfilled all the hopes placed in him by his mother.
“Literature has always been the last refuge in this world for those who do not know where to lay their dreaming heads.”
Humor as a weapon
Romain Gary often makes fun of himself and of what happens to him. His humor throughout this novel brings lively and authentic tones to the story.
“Humor is an affirmation of dignity, a declaration of man’s superiority to all that befalls him“
Why is it not really an autobiographical story ?
The story of the narrator’s life, while inspired by real facts, is recounted in ways borrowed from the imaginary in order to paradoxically bring out the authenticity of the emotions that weave the said facts.
“Reality is not an inspiration for literature. At its best, literature is an inspiration for reality.”
What is true ?
Romain Gary was born in 1914 under the name of Roman Kacew. He spent several years in Wilno, first a Russian city and then, after the First World War, a Polish one before finally becoming the town of Vilnius in Lithuania. After the departure of his father, his mother and he went to live a few years in Warsaw before settling in Nice from 1928 on. In fact, Romain’s mother placed all her hopes and romantic ambitions for her son in the country of France. In 1938 he obtained a law degree while training for a military career. Later on he joined the French Air Force as a pilot during the Second World War. Once the worldwide conflict came to an end, he began a diplomatic career and became a reputed French novelist.
Having published writings under several pseudonyms, Romain Gary is the only author who ever won twice the “Prix Goncourt”, once in 1956 for “The Roots of Heaven” under the name of Romain Gary and secondly in 1975 for “The Life before us” under the pseudonym Emile Ajar (“Ajar” meaning “Ember” in reference to his mother’s actress name).
“I sat day after day in my little room, waiting for inspiration to visit me, trying to invent a pseudonym that would express, in a combination of noble and striking sounds, our dream of artistic achievement, a pen name grand enough to compensate for my own feeling of insecurity and helplessness at the idea of everything my mother expected from me.”
The importance of reality in storytelling
My curiosity has led me to discover that unfortunately the final culmination of the novel does not comply with reality.
Does it really matter?
In fact, knowing this does not refrain from the pleasure of reading this novel which I truly recommend in more than one way. The testimony of maternal love, which is the primary and essential objective of this story, remains, for its part, authentic. It is this testimony that enriches the reader’s thinking while being moved to tears.
Yesterday it was Mother’s Day ! I hope you have enjoyed this day and celebrated your mother with love.