The Life Before Us by Romain Gary (Émile Ajar)

This is a beautiful book. Told from the perspective of Momo, an orphan Arab boy who does not know his actual date of birth, it is filled with an innocent humour that is never far from the reality of poverty and deprivation in which the story takes place. Many of the words he uses are completely wrong, paralleling the actual word in pronunciation but miles away from it in meaning, something which only tends to add to the underlying humour. Rosa, the sixty-eight-year-old Jewish ex-prostitute who takes care of Momo and several other children on the sixth floor of a block of flats, is overweight, ill and on the verge of losing her mind. She is incapable of looking after the children but she loves them, especially Momo. This is a book about love set against a background of immense tragedy and despair; in the end, it is love that pushes aside everything else and becomes the only thing that is important. Definitely recommended

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