Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker:
Romain Gary was a great big liar. The French novelist, war hero, and diplomat made up stories the way other people make up beds: daily and conscientiously and without much premeditation. He lied all the time, and about many things. He lied about his background: born Roman Kacew in Lithuania, in 1914, right at the beginning of the European catastrophe, as a poor Jew among poor Jews. He lied about his mother, his father, his education, his literary history, his loves. His fine and patient and entirely admiring biographer, David Bellos, not only called his study of Gary “A Tall Story” but throughout uses words like “bullshit” and “eyewash” to characterize the tales his subject told.
But Gary was a big liar. This desperately poor Eastern European Jew reinvented himself as a French patriot and literary figure, titles he earned by fighting for France and by writing very good novels in French, one of which won the Goncourt Prize, France’s highest literary award. And then, when he was famous under one made-up name and persona, he invented another name and persona, and wrote well enough in this very different voice to win a second Goncourt Prize.