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Cornell University

“The Life Before Us”

The Life Before Us is the story of an orphaned Arab boy, Momo, and his devotion to Madame Rosa, a dying 68-year-old, 220 lb. survivor of Auschwitz and retired “lady of the night.” Momo has been one of the ever-changing rag-bag of whore’s children at Madame Rosa’s boarding-house in Paris ever since he can remember. But when the check that pays for his keep no longer arrives and Madame Rosa becomes too ill to climb the stairs to their apartment, he determines to support her any way he can.

This sensitive, slightly macabre love story has a supporting cast of transvestites, pimps, and witch doctors. Published by Romain Gary under the pseudonym of Émile Ajar, this novel won France’s premier literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, in 1975, making Gary the only author to have won the Goncourt twice (illicitly). The Life Before Us breaks many other rules, as well as the reader’s heart.

–from the New Directions Paperbook edition