Best known as a novelist who mixed humor, optimism, and despair in his writing, Gary wrote in both French and English. His first novel, “Forest of Anger” (1944), about World War II, was revised as “Nothing Important Ever Dies” in 1960. “The Roots of Heaven” (1956) balanced the hope for freedom and justice against the realities of man’s cruelty and greed. Some of his comic novels have serious moral themes. For instance, in “The Dance of Genghis Cohn” (1968) the ghost of a Jewish stand-up comic takes possession of the Nazi who executed him.
Gary was born in Lithuania to a Russian father and French mother. He moved to France when he was 14 and studied law. A decorated veteran of World War II, Gary served as an aviator with the French Free Forces in Europe and North America. For 20 years following the war he was in the French Diplomatic Service, and was the French Consul General in Los Angeles from 1956 to 1960.