(Paris) Paul Pavlowitch, to whom the writer Romain Gary had asked to embody the author of his novels signed Émile Ajar, remains bitter from the consequences of this mystification, almost half a century after this incredible affair.
Posted at 8:33 a.m.
This episode which marked the history of the Goncourt Prize is the subject of the end of a book of memories that Mr. Pavlowitch published at the age of 80. All Immortals (Buchet-Chastel editions) is essentially devoted to Gary and his wife, actress Jean Seberg.
Gary, born Roman Kacew in Vilnius in 1914, Prix Goncourt 1956 for The Roots of Heavenhad lost its luster with literary critics in the 1970s. Read hastily, his books were poorly received.
“He who had left the diplomatic service, who had been asked to retire, he no longer had this consul’s business card. He dressed as he liked, he became more and more folkloric, the cigar in his mouth. People didn’t understand,” Paul Pavlowitch told AFP.
He starts from scratch under a heteronym: Hamil Raja, alias Émile Ajar, a North African in legal trouble for a dark history of abortions. No one should know, not even its publisher, Gallimard.
Paul Pavlowitch makes himself a fake driver’s license in Raja’s name.
“It was quite funny”
Gary pulls off several strokes of genius.
With Ajar’s second novel, The life aheadhe won the Goncourt a second time, in 1975, which is normally forbidden.
With the third, Pseudohe convinces those who had discovered the relationship between Raja and Gary that in this strange enterprise, Gary is not the author.
And just before committing suicide in December 1980, he sent Gallimard editions Life and Death of Emile Ajar, short story published posthumously in July 1981, where he signed his package. “There were comical moments […] I had fun. Goodbye and thank you,” he wrote in the final lines.
Someone was needed to play the character, if only to sign the first publishing contract in 1973, with Mercure de France, for Big hug. He was the one Gary called his nephew, actually his second cousin, Paul Pavlowitch.
“He asked me for a few favors. I returned them to him. I could see that I was becoming an actor, but it was quite funny,” he explains. Even though in All Immortalshe remembers having been a poor actor in front of the first journalist who had seen the so-called Ajar, in Copenhagen.
The enthusiastic reception on the one hand and the commiseration on the other for an outmoded, isolated Romain Gary, even if he continued to publish, only aggravated his depression.
Pseudo d’Ajar, in 1976, is “a book that I have a lot of trouble digesting, which he wrote in an almost unreal state of paranoia […] This book separated us,” says Paul Pavlowitch.
As for the Gallimard editions, they “did not see” Gary’s discomfort. The writer complained, according to his alter ego, that his manuscripts appeared without editing work: “he simply wondered what they wanted”.
When the truth was revealed by a press release to AFP in June 1981 and then a book published by Fayard in July, The man we believedPaul Pavlowitch goes on the set of the literary program Apostrophes by Bernard Pivot.
“Gallimard editions sent a whole battalion of Gallimard authors. And I had the feeling that I was in court, guilty of something,” he recalls. “People who courted the author I was supposed to be were pretty crummy, vile […] They became as aggressive as they had been courtiers”.
His writing career will never take off. He will be an editor.
Paul Pavlowitch remains marked by the maneuvers of lawyers so that nothing remains of his role in the success of Ajar. Especially not the part of the copyright that Gary had conceded. These lawyers “organized my exclusion”, he says.