cover image The Kites

The Kites

Romain Gary, trans. from the French by Miranda Richmond Mouillot. New Directions, $27.95 (375p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2655-4

Published for the first time in English, this novel from Gary (The Roots of Heaven), two-time winner of the Prix Goncourt, follows a young man’s passion through the ravages of WWII. Ludo lives with his uncle, kite maker Ambrose Fleury, in the small town of Cléry in the French countryside. Ludo, like everyone in the Fleury family, has an impressive “historical memory” that earns him the ire of his teachers and arguments with Lila, the object of his affection, who isn’t as keen as Ludo to rehash the country’s recent bloody history. Lila, the mercurial, naive daughter of Polish aristocrats, waffles about her own identity or plays at pushing Ludo away, but never truly takes on the contours of a fully-formed character. While characterizations of Lila can be maddeningly flat, Ludo’s foray into the French Resistance—set against the backdrop of German-occupied France—is beautifully rendered. Gary handles the emotional tightrope of espionage and the brutal reality of battle with clarity and precision, all captured magnificently by Mouillot’s translation: “I would climb the wall and go to wait for Lila in the lane of chestnut trees, and the stone bench, which had with the moonlight exchanged nothing but chill and emptiness for so long, welcomed us with friendship.” This is a wonderful translation of a French classic. (Oct.)