Born Romain Kacew in Moscow, Romain Gary grew up in Vilnius, Lithuania and later in Warsaw, Poland. He never knew his father, a Russian actor, and was raised by his mother, Nina Owczinski, a former second rate actress. At age fourteen, he and his mother moved to Nice, France. He later studied law in Aix-en-Provence and later in Paris. He learned to pilot an aircraft in the French Air Force in Salon-de-Provence and in Avord, near Bourges . Following the Nazi occupation of France in World War II, a Jew, he fled to England and under Charles de Gaulle served with the Free French Forces in Europe and North Africa.
After the war, he worked in the French diplomatic service and in 1945 published his first novel. He would become one of France's most popular and prolific writers, authoring more than thirty novels, essays and recollections some of which he wrote under the pseudonym of Emile Ajar. He also wrote one novel under the pseudonym of Fosco Sinibaldi and another one as Shatan Bogat.
In 1952, he became secretary of the French Delegation to the United Nations in New York, and later in London (1955).
In 1956, he became General Consul of France in Los Angeles.
He is the only person to win the Prix Goncourt twice. This prize in French language literature can only be attributed once to a given author. Romain Gary, who had already received the prize in 1956 for Les racines du ciel, published La vie devant soi under the pseudonym of Emile Ajar in 1975. The Academie Goncourt decided to give the prize to the author of this book, without knowing his real identity. A period of literary mystery followed. Gary's cousin Paul Pavlowitch posed as the author for a while. Romain Gary later revealed the truth in his posthumous book Vie et mort d'Emile Ajar.
Romain Gary's first wife was the British writer, journalist, and Vogue editor Lesley Blanch (author of The Wilder Shores of Love). They were married in 1944 and divorced in 1961. From 1962 to 1970, Gary was married to the American actress Jean Seberg, with whom he had a son, Alexandre Diego Gary.
He also co-wrote the screenplay for the motion picture, The Longest Day and directed the 1972 film "Kill!" that starred his ex-wife, Jean Seberg.
Suffering from depression after the 1979 suicide of his former wife, Jean Seberg, Romain Gary died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on December 2, 1980 in Paris, France.
His books include:
As Romain Gary: